Pope Francis cited Saint Oscar Romero while addressing a delegation from the Pontifical Latin American College on its 160th anniversary on Thursday November 15, 2018. Romero is an alum of the institution, and the first Latin American Pope had great words of praise for the newly canonized saint. He called the Salvadoran martyr a “living sign of the fruitfulness and sanctity of the Latin American Church” and “a man rooted in the Word of God and in the hearts of his people.”
That part of the speech was clear for all to see, but there was one more reference to Romero by the Pontiff missed by nearly everyone. The text of the Pope’s speech also contains a footnote that cites to Romero that appears to represent a “first,” because it cites to Romero, not to pay tribute to him (as the Pope does in the comments cited above, which come later in the speech), or even to talk about Romero at all, but simply as a source by which to make a different point. As shown below, such citations may one day help promote Romero to Doctor of the Church.
In his remarks, Francis was talking about how Latin America has become more polarized and that polarization has infiltrated the Church in that continent:
One of the phenomena currently afflicting the continent is cultural fragmentation, the polarization of the social fabric and the loss of roots ... The Church is not external to this situation and is exposed to this temptation; since she is subject to the same environment, she runs the risk of becoming disoriented by falling prey to one form of polarization or another, or becoming uprooted if one forgets that the vocation is a place of encounter.
At that point, a footnote in the text of the speech cites to Romero’s fourth pastoral letter from 1979. The paragraph from Romero’s letter cited by Francis talks about disunity in the Church and states, “The way to explain this sad phenomenon of disunity ... is to consider that the lack of unity within the church is nothing else than an echo of the division that exists all about it — the division within the society in which it lives and works.”
Clearly, Francis draws upon Romero’s analysis to make his point about the state of the Latin American Church. This appears to be the first time Romero has been cited by a Pope as an authority on a particular subject or point. According to Super Martyrio’s analysis, Romero was cited at least ten times by Popes Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI in statements commemorating or otherwise acknowledging his memory. John Paul cited Romero eight times, usually in General Audiences or visits to El Salvador. Benedict cited Romero on three occasions, again, in statements discussing Romero and his legacy. Francis, too, has cited Romero extensively, usually paying tribute to him in direct references, including around his beatification and canonization.
But the reference to Romero in this footnote is the first citation to Romero in the papal magisterium, which is important for the hope being nurtured by the Salvadoran Church that Romero would one day be declared a Doctor of the Church. “More frequent quotations from Archbishop Romero in magisterial documents would certainly help the case,” Fr. Steven Payne told a Notre Dame conference studying the question of Romero’s qualifications for the title. Per Fr. Payne, such citations would help Romero’s supporters show that his teachings enjoy a “mature sapiential synthesis” with a “large diffusion, positive reception, and particular beneficial influence”.
It turns out a footnote can sometimes also be the heading for a whole new chapter.