Sunday, August 19, 2007

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

In a brazen move that illustrates the danger of political manipulation of the Romero image, the Hugo Chavez regime in Venezuela announced a new website about Archbishop Romero and sponsored a Liberation Theology seminar in Caracas on the occasion of Romero's 90th birthday in which participants triumphantly declared that Romero was a "liberation theologian" and that socialism and liberation theology, alone, were the viable alternatives to gain social justice in Latin America. These developments followed the announcement last month that El Salvador's ARENA government, whose ruling party was established by the man signaled as the intellectual author of the Romero assassination, would officially back the Romero canonization drive. Both gambits demonstrate how political actors have exploited a perceived void in ownership of the Romero brand for self-serving purposes, given the lack of action on the ecclesiastic front along those lines.

A much-circulated AP story by Nicole Winfield, timed to coincide with the 90th anniversary of Romero's birth this past week alleges that, "The campaign to make him a Roman Catholic saint appears to be languishing." Winfield does not point to any specific setbacks or identifiable obstacles that were not already known, and would justify such analysis. In fact, Winfield acknowledges various incremental gains, such as the record-correcting Morozzo della Rocca biography, and Pope Benedict's astonishing remark that "Romero as a person merits beatification." Winfield's depiction of church paralysis before the controversy surrounding Romero and, more specifically, the complexities of the analyses of the political as opposed to purely theological ramifications of his martyrdom, however, does describe the reality perceived by political actors who appear to conclude that the Church has foresaken Romero, and that he is up for grabs (in very simplified terms).

On the one hand, of course the Church is right to stay out of partisan rows over the purely political implications of Romero's ministry, and there is even perhaps some benefit in having the extremists on both ends of the political spectrum fight over the scraps of Romero's legacy that they like, so that they will benefit from the edification of being exposed to Romero's message and perhaps find in it enough traces of the Gospel and the Magisterium as to be made better for it. On the other hand, the danger that they will corrupt and defile the figure and message of Romero seems all too great to leave it to chance. When Bishop Vincenzo Paglia first received the appointment of postulator of Romero's cause, he immediately reported to John Paul II, after having reviewed Romero's orthodoxy, "Romero is ours!" However, ownership is extrinsically linked to possession, and where an owner relinquishes possession, he eventually relinquishes right if another interposes a claim and too much times passes in between.
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