Journal of Catholic Social Thought

Volume 20, Issue 1, Winter 2023

Honoring Johan Verstraeten

Mathias NebelOrcid-ID
Pages 27-50

The Theology of the People, Pope Francis, and Populism: A Critical Latin American Perspective

This paper investigates the Argentinian “theology of the people” (“teología del pueblo”) and how it might run the risk of turning Catholic social thought into an ideology. The first part focuses on the political and theological notion of people and its link to the poor. The author recalls the Argentinian roots of this theology, summarizes its main tenets, and presents Pope Francis’s understanding of the theology of the people. The second part contrasts the theology of the people with the roots of populism in Latin America. The author explores the historical construction of the notion of people in the modern nation-building process, turns to caciquism as the dominant cultural framework of political power, and reviews Nadia Urbinati’s definition of populist regimes. The conclusion proposes to build upon Francis’s principles of common good dynamics to avoid the capture and recycling of the theology of the people’s language by populist regimes.