GENERAL STATUS REPORT
In March 2005, Msgr. Rafael Urrutia, the Salvadoran Vice-Postulator of Archbishop Romero’s canonization cause characterized the degree of completion of the canonization drive by saying, “we have advanced 95 percent” of the trajectory required to have Archbishop Romero declared a saint of the Church. According to Church canon law, what is required is the completion of work in two phases of investigation. The first phase is completed in the home diocese of the would-be saint, and the second and final phase is conducted in the Vatican.
The Romero canonization cause was opened in 1994 after obtaining a “nihil obstat” certification – a green light from the Vatican. The work in San Salvador went on for a couple of years: witnesses were interviewed, files were compiled and sealed for submission to Rome. In 1996, the papers were turned in and, in 1997, the Vatican certified the file for content and form. In 1998, the Archdiocese of San Salvador submitted two important briefs: the Summarium, a general overview, and the Positio Super Martyrio, the document that laid out the cause for Romero’s martyrdom – the basis for his sainthood “application.”
Most analysts remarked that Romero’s cause got off to a swift start. Immediately, Pope John Paul II named Msgr. Vincenzo Paglia to replace Urrutia as postulator for the Roman phase of the cause. Paglia is an Italian media darling, who handled high profile diplomatic negotiations personally for John Paul, and adviced filmmaker Roberto Benigni on Catholic angles for his films. Within a few years of study, vocal opposition from four yet unnamed Latin American cardinals lead the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to route the Romero cause to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for an extraordinary theological audit. The doctrinal congregation was headed by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, whose claim to fame included a supposed clampdown on Liberation Theology in Latin America.
The shrewd Msgr. Paglia pulled off a publicity coup, convening an “International Congress on the Figure of Archbishop Romero” in the Italian countryside that included such finnessed presentations as a demonstration that Oscar Romero’s private library revealed that Romero had never even opened liberation theology books he received as gifts, while volumes on traditional spirituality showed heavy wear. The Congress also covered many substantive areas, by gathering serious historians and political commentators to put Romero in the proper context, away from the fever and fury of Latin American politics. The re-examination of Romero within the highest circles of Church power seemed to pay off: in October 2004, the a commission of experts from the doctrinal department concluded that “Romero was not a revolutionary bishop, but a man of the Church, of the Gospel, and of the Poor.”
Apparently, those pesky Latin American cardinals were not convinced and the advancement of the cause in the Congregation for the Causes of Saints was still not proceeding normally by October 2005 as expected. By all accounts, as of the summer of 2005, the Church still had to confront the prickly question of whether Romero was a martyr killed in “odium fidei,” or in hatred of the faith (see previous post on this topic). Moreover, the new Pope, Benedict XVI – the former Cardinal Ratzinger – also voiced concerns that Romero’s memory would be manipulated for political ends, ostensibly by the international left, who claim Romero as their own and accuse the Church of having abandoned him. But, still, in football terms, the ball must have moved significantly towards the goal line, because in September 2005 (before the Latin cardinals’ additional concerns were registered), Msgr. Paglia boldly told a reporter that he was within a month of closing the deal.
To recap: there are only two things pending in the Vatican process (aside from some clarifications requested by the Latin American stalwarts): (1) the recognition of martyrdom and (2) the concern over politization. The first is a fairly straightforward doctrinal matter, that need not occupy the Church more than a month or two. Close calls on martyrdom are not new to the process: Edith Stein was declared a martyr, even though her Jewish past also figured into the motives of her Nazi killers; and Maximillian Kolbe was declared a martyr, even though he was never singled out for killing – he stepped forward voluntarily to take the place of another. The Edith Stein beatification also shows that the Church is not afraid to be decisive even when its findings might stir controversy. The real stumbling block in Oscar Romero’s path is the prudential consideration of when it might be a good time to beatify him, to minimize the danger of political manipulation. Canon law does not have any specific direction on how to gauge the right time, and such prudential matters are typically left to the local bishop.
In this case, San Salvador Archbishop Msgr. Fernando Saenz, long dogged by the local left who favor his deputy, Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez, and compare Saenz unfavorably to Romero, is likely to want to hold out for a long time to prevent the local left from dancing in the streets of San Salvador. This can have the surprising result that more than "95%" of the obligatory requirements having been satisfied, the cause could be stalled for months or years over a discretionary consideration.