Saturday, March 17, 2007

THE SOBRINO FLAP

Last week's landmark "Notification" by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) regarding Jesuit theologian Jon Sobrino, a leading proponent of Liberation Theology closely allied with Archbishop Romero, has raised questions of whether the Vatican censure will affect the progress of Romero's beatification. In a December 13, 2006 letter to the Jesuit Superior General, Father Peter Hans Kolvenbach, published on the Internet, Sobrino wrote: "I know quite well that my possible influence in his writings and homilies has been a problem for his canonization in the Vatican." Sobrino goes on to detail that he has drafted and signed a 20 page explanation. Sobrino first responded to Vatican objections regarding his theology in March 2005, the same month that Bishop Vincenzo Paglia, the postulator of Archbishop Romero's beatification cause, first announced that beatification was imminent, possibly occurring within six months to a year. By fall 2005, those rosy expectations were quashed, and it seems possible that the Sobrino flap was the cause of the derailment.

If that were true, that result would be most unfortunate. Perhaps a key document to the recovery and clarification of Archbishop Romero's theology as being free from the narrow, methodological errors attributed to Sobrino, is a sermon Romero delivered on August 5, 1976, in which, half a year before being named Archbishop, Romero criticized precisely the types of theological shortcomings in Sobrino's scholarship that are complained of in the Vatican's "Notification." Fr. James Brockman recounts the episode in his Romero biography:


Romero preached the homily at the pontifical mass [for the Feast of the Transfiguration, El Salvador's national patronal feast] ... He spoke of the doctrine of the human and divine natures of Christ, defined by Council of Chalcedon in 451, and proceeded to make a swinging attack on "so-called new Christologies." Jon Sobrino, director of the Center for Theological Reflection at the Central America University had just published a book on Christology and took Romero's words as an attack on his work... Romero spoke of Christ as liberator, but most of his words were a warning about merely temporal liberation ... He attacks the new theology because it seems to him to threaten the church's teaching and belief in the divinity of Christ.

"The Word Remains: A Life of Oscar Romero," Orbis Books, 1982, 1989, 1999.

Father Brockman's description seems astonishing, in light of last week's "Notification" because it goes to the heart of the subject matter of concern to the CDF, including the divinity of Jesus and the correct construction of the early councils (both matters specifically referred to in the "Notification"). Brockman goes on to acknowledge, as Fr. Sobrino does in his Dec. 2006 letter, that Sobrino collaborated with Romero in two of Romero's works: his second pastoral letter, and his speech at Leuven University. Brockman indicates that Romero heavily revised the first, and accepted the latter. If Romero's revisions were made consistent with his 1976 speech, Romero's treatment of Sobrino would be in step with the Church's -- calling attention, but not excluding -- and it would appear that the CDF and the Congregation for the Causes of Saints should be able to come to an expeditious resolution (assuming they have identified the right pieces of the puzzle).
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