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Thursday, February 5, 2015

More On Romero


Talking with people in the last couple of days I see some are not happy with the decision to declare Archbishop Oscar Romero a martyr. I think many people in the Church are uneasy and have some doubts as to whether Romero should be advanced towards beatification. Some see this as another ideological decision by Pope Francis. We have all become familiar with the belief that Romero supported Liberation Theology and was killed for his leftist position.

Personally I still need to do some more reading on Romero by someone I would trust, but I am sure now that Romero was not what many in the left have been promoting since the day he was killed. The familiar narrative of Pope St John Paul and Pope Benedict blocking the Cause and Pope Francis lifting all restrictions is not actually accurate. First of all the previous two Popes would not have needed to block a Cause, if they harboured the antagonism they are said to have had there would have been no Cause at all: they would not have allowed it be opened. St John Paul defended Romero, and visited the slain Archbishop's tomb during his trip to El Salvador. Pope Benedict, as acknowledged by Romero's postulator a day or two ago, advanced the Cause, "unblocking" it - the "block" being concerns (prudently arising) that accompanied the Cause thanks to Romero's being adopted as the poster boy of Marxists in Central America. Pope Francis just finds himself issuing the decree of martyrdom after the work mostly carried out under his two predecessors has been completed.

Fr Dwight Longenecker has an interesting article dealing with this and the real Romero which I would encourage you to read. After his investigations he has concluded that the Archbishop was orthodox, one who sought to defend the poor from their oppressors, indeed a man who chose an Opus Dei priest as his spiritual director - hardly leftist.  He did not accept the Marxist narrative that informs, to various degrees, aspects of Liberation Theology, nor did he see violence and revolution as the solutions to the problems his people were facing. He was as critical of the left as he was of the far right. He was also a pious man who sought holiness and knew that it could only be found in his relationship with Christ.

For further reading on this, see Filip Mazurzcak's piece in First Things, hardly a liberal publication. I note with confidence a quotation from Romero quoted by Mazurczak concerning Marxism: "Since Marxist materialism destroys the Church’s transcendent meaning, a Marxist church would be not only self-destructive but senseless." Such a belief would be anathema to Liberation Theologians who see Marx as a new Aristotle to advance the Church's social teaching, as noted by Mazurczak.

The left have hijacked him: does that mean the Church has to relinquish him to an ideology the man himself did not support? The answer I heard from one person recently seemed to suggest we do.  if such is the case, then Pope Benedict made a serious mistake in canonising Hildegarde von Bingen and then declaring her a Doctor of the Church. She had been hijacked by radical feminists, new age practitioners and all sorts of heretical thinkers who have published countless books interpreting her visions and writings in a manner far from orthodox Christianity. However Benedict realised that the Church had to reclaim a woman who had nothing to do with the unorthodox notions that have grown up around her and her works. Her visions are complex, strange even, but she lived in the heart of the Church and her works are not only orthodox and beautiful, but such a marvellous expression of the Church's faith and thought that she is formally acknowledged to be among that elite group of teachers who deserve the title Doctor of the Church. 

Should we not seek to do the same with Archbishop Romero? Present the man as he was and "rehabilitate" him in the minds of those who are suspicious of him? As we do so we have to remind ourselves that it is not just left-wing regimes that are oppressive, right-wing regimes can be just as terrible and godless, and Romero saw that every day in El Salvador. In the Church there should not be left or right, just right or wrong, what is orthodox and true and what is not. In times of great confusion and conflict people can get lost, and I think with the struggle in El Salvador after his martyrdom the real Oscar Romero, the faithful son of the Church, was lost in the haze ideology can produce.  He became for those who wanted to right wrongs by revolution, reinterpreting the Gospel to support their Marxist faith, a handy vehicle to promote their cause and attract more followers. 

Now there has to be clarity. The theologians in the Congregation for the Causes of Saints have spent thirty years investigating this Cause and they have concluded that the poster boy was no Marxist lackey, but a follower of Christ, an orthodox Catholic, a devoted pastor who sought to do what Christ tells us to do: to look after the poor and speak up for those who have no voice, the little ones who are suffering. He was killed because, in the name of Jesus Christ, in persona Christi, he stood up for these little ones: killed in odium fidei - that is martyrdom.

By the way when I speak of reclaiming Archbishop Romero I do not mean that we render his ministry and sacrifice meaningless, neutralise him, make him "safe" so we can swallow him and put his image on a pedestal to catch dust. He is a prophetic figure in the Church, one who challenges us - that is what the Saints are supposed to do; so we are to listen to his voice and learn from his example. In a sense we should always be at least a little uneasy when we encounter the Saints, if we are not then we may well have become complacent and miss the point of their lives and their heroic virtue.

The Venerable Oscar has a message for us today, tomorrow, until the day the Lord comes again. We would do well to take heed of it. May he intercede for all of us and obtain from the Lord the graces we need to live upright and holy lives, serving God and our brothers and sisters, most especially those are most in need. That may require a martyrdom within our hearts: if so, may it happen.


For your reading the CDF's Instruction on Certain Aspects of the Theology of Liberation, written by the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and approved by Pope St John Paul II. Note that Ratzinger points out that "theologies of liberation" would be more correct since there are a number of them, some which are orthodox expressions of the Church's ministry to the poor and others which are not, but rather an expression of Marxist ideology.

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