Monday, April 02, 2007


The 27th anniversary of Archbishop Romero's martyrdom saw a flurry of public statements regarding the status of the canonization cause made to the Spanish language and Salvadoran press. Among the most interesting revelations are the statements by Msgr. Rafael Urrutia and Archbishop Fernando Saenz in San Salvador. According to their statements, in November 2006, the Vatican informed the San Salvador archdiocese that the after the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) reviewed and cleared Romero's orthodoxy ("right thought") in 2001-2004, it would retain Romero's file for an analysis of his orthopraxy ("right action"). Therefore, the canonization process is not moving forward in the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, but remains detoured in the CDF. Urrutia revealed that, at that time, the Vatican even proposed that Romero's cause be modified from one premised on martyrdom to a traditional sainthood cause based on spiritual virtues -- hinting at the level of difficulty in proving Romero's status as a martyr.

The unprecedented scrutiny of Romero's orthopraxy, Urrutia revealed, would center on Romero's pastoral actions as archbishop, as these are revealed in his sermons and diaries -- which have already been combed through for doctrinal error and found to be theologically sound. In a December 2006 letter from Fr. Jon Sobrino to Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, the Jesuit Superior General, Fr. Sobrino reveals that the inquest that led to a recent CDF notification against two of Sobrino's books also raised suspicion against Romero, and Sobrino indicates that one of the clerics instigating suspicion of Romero is the Colombian cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, the retired prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy who led a campaign against Liberation Theology from the Latin American Bishops' Conference beginning in the 1970s. Previous reports had pointed to "Latin American cardinals" as the source of obstacles against Romero's sainthood. Nevertheless, the sainthood cause caught a break from an unexpected source when Pope Benedict XVI cited Romero in his March 25 Angelus greeting, lauding the "Yes" of Virgin Mary and the martyrs to Christs' call to sacrifice.

If Archbishop Romero, whose writing and preaching has been cleared of doctrinal error, is examined again for error in his pastoral action, one wonders what standard of review is employed by the Vatican commissions studying the matter. A logic of fairness would suggest that, where someone has already been found to be a right-thinker (orthodox), the presumption of right-action (orthopraxy) would automatically attach, unless demonstrated otherwise. In other words, the theological censors ought not go in with a fine tooth comb looking for the slightest hint of 'not-right' action, but they should presume that someone who is a good Christian and adheres to the tenets of the Faith, will also dutifully carry them out, and not shirk them in the execution. Stated differently, a Servant of God who has passed one study by the CDF should be accorded more deference in subsequent investigations, particularly, where logic would dictate, as here, that the clean bill of health on one theological factor would also result in a positive result in a derivative and related area (as are thought and action).

In other judicial processes (canon law being, after all, a legal process), tribunals adopt "standards of review" appropriate to different types of situations. For example, appellate courts give some deference to trial courts in certain matters, such as a trial court's fact-finding function. The appeals court realizes that it has limited ability to re-conduct a trial and will examine the lower court's decision making and legal analysis, but not its basic factual investigation. That premise has some carry-over value where theological scholars are reviewing a Church pastor's action. It is unfair to conduct a full-hindsight review, for example, that does not give due consideration to the pressures and constraints with which a pastor, in a situation of repression and political instability, would have faced acting in the pressure cooker of real time, and not in the contemplative luxury after the fact. The Church is very sensitive, for example, about criticisms against the actions of Pope Pius XII regarding the Holocaust, for many of the same reasons. Moreover, there is a theological factor to be accounted for, which is that a pastor, especially a bishop, is not just an official to be second-guessed: he was put there by Providence, and by the holy process of Apostolic Succession. An archbishop who is also primate of his countrymen, during a national tribulation, must also be presumed to have been put there by God for a reason, and not forsaken by the Holy Spirit in his decisions.

In sum, the approach should not be tantamount to "de novo" review: "Would we, the theological scholars sitting around in the Vatican archives in 2007, be taking this action?" -- but, instead, "Is Brother Romero, in the crossfires of rightwing assassins, burying hundreds of peasants every week in a cataclysm of social injustice, entitled to deference in his pastoral action unless he strays so decisively from his stated principles that he abuses the discretion that would reasonably be accorded to him under the circumstances?" Let us pray that the guardians of the Faith adhere strictly to this tenet of fairness.