Wednesday, March 28, 2012

CODE RED: CANONIZATION PROCESS FROZEN


Archbishop Romero’s canonization drive is dormant. Although the sleep is not intractable, no plan has been announced to get it moving again. Therefore, we are changing our amber status (which indicates moderate or slow forward motion) assessed in October 2010 to red (signifying stagnation) as of April 2012.

Msgr. Ricardo Urioste, the president of Fundación Romero told the Salvadoran daily «La Página» that there was “no news in the process, the only news is the same as always—all we do is wait.” Super Martyrio made a similar assessment in October 2010, when we analyzed the pause in progress to be tantamount to a yellow traffic light. But, a year and a half later, that delay is more than just a yellow. This red light, though, is just a stop light—not a warning light. We do not find that an essential or fundamental factor for the canonization cause is compromised. We simply note that case has gone inactive, and that authorities in the Vatican and in El Salvador must act in order for it to snap out of its dormant state. As Gianni Valente of the Italian daily «La Stampa» wrote in a recent analysis, the cause has lapsed into “standby mode” and there has been no effort “to seriously restart the process through the ordinary steps and procedures.”

Among the possible explanations for a canonization drive to slow down, we can eliminate the most worrisome ones. We know that the Vatican authorities have vindicated Archbishop Romero from charges of doctrinal error and from allegations that his pastoral actions raised concerns that would halt his canonization altogether. Separate probes by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith examined those questions and failed to produce disqualifying facts. Additionally, the Romero case has advanced substantially, and actually moved at breakneck speed in earlier phases of the investigation. As we detailed in our analysis earlier this year, Archbishop Romero’s cause has progressed ahead of most others submitted 1980 and thereafter, and even though it lags behind a privileged group of candidates for the sainthood (such as John Paul II and Mother Teresa), it actually out-performed the “fast-track” saints we analyzed in the Phase I of the process, taking merely 1 year to complete this leg of the process (compare 6 years for Opus Dei founder Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer and 8 years for Padre Pio).

Loss of papal favor is another possible explanation for delay that we tend to discount. Papal support is useful because, as Fr. Daniel Ols, the relator of Archbishop Romero’s cause told the National Catholic Reporter in 2003, “if the Holy Father wants things to accelerate, they speed up.” Between March 2007 and February 2008, Pope Benedict mentioned Archbishop Romero three times in public, in less than one year. He has not mentioned him again—most notably, he did not mention him this past week, when the Pope was in Latin America during the Romero anniversary for the first time. The papal trip and the Romero anniversary were the two largest stories out of Latin America in the Catholic world, but they might as well have been on different planets. Yet, Benedict’s familiarity with Romero’s case (he was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith when Romero was cleared) and enthusiasm of his previous statements make it hard to imagine he could have had a change of heart. In fact, some of the Benedict’s preaching so mirrors Romero’s that this blogger has wondered where the common language comes from.

The «La Stampa» story posits the prospect that the red light is really red tape: that “the coordination required between the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith plays a role” in explaining why “the Roman phase of the beatification process has ground to a halt,” the article states. Also along the same order would be lackluster support from the Salvadoran bishops conference and lack of focus by Bishop Vincenzo Paglia, the Postulator of the cause—a high profile Italian prelate with a lot on his plate including, most recently, a much touted candidacy to be appointed Patriarch of Venice (it did not pan out). But all of these bureaucratic impediments are surely outweighed by the universal acclaim for Romero and presumed papal support for the cause. As Nancy Kelsey, an American Indian from the Ottawa and Potawatomi tribes who lives in Detroit told the National Catholic Reporter, “If he isn't made a saint, the Vatican is underestimating his staying power, the message of social justice; it transcends the civil war and it’s a universal message.”

There is one other explanation for the delay left, and it’s the most elusive factor of all. It may be that we have been looking for the Devil’s Advocate (the archaic term for a cleric who was traditionally charged with arguing against a canonization) in all the wrong places and, just as in the old Rolling Stones’ lyric: “After all it was you and me.” In an interview with the San Salvador archdiocese’s «Ecclesia» magazine, Romero biographer Msgr. Jesús Delgado posits that the Vatican does not think the time is yet ripe to beatify Romero because of continuing polarization surrounding his name, particularly in Salvadoran society. As «La Stampa» puts it, beatifying Romero would favor (or be exploited by) “popular movements inspired by Marxism and the revolutionary guerrillas of the 70s.” Therefore, we must wait until some of Romero’s admirers make an overture toward traditional Catholic spirituality by showing an interest in Romero’s saintliness, as opposed to only caring about his utility to their partisan objectives. As Pope Benedict stated it, “The problem was that a political party wrongly wished to use him as their badge, as an emblematic figure,” and the Church must re-contextualize his image, “and protect it from these attempts to exploit it.” (May 9, 2007 Press conference.)

In El Salvador, there are signs that the encouragement from former archbishop Msgr. Fernando Sáenz Lacalle and the current archbishop, Msgr. José Luis Escobar Alas, to express devotion to Romero through prayer and respectful piety as opposed to merely political expressions, have led to a flourishing of Romero spirituality. In fact, such devotion has always been there, especially among the humble poor who wait on God (Matthew 5:3; 6:33). Pope John Paul attested to this during his last visit to El Salvador (1996), recounting that, “When the Gospel of the Beatitudes was read in front of the cathedral where the remains of [Archbishop Romero] are kept” , the memory of Romero and his fellow archbishops, “reawakened in all the will to work together by building a more humane world.” (February 14, 1996 General Audience.) That devotion has multiplied—for example, the recent National Catholic Reporter story recounts how the young are making Romero part of their faith.  The article relates how, “As each anniversary of his death approached,” one Salvadoran family living abroad, “took their sons to Mass, to events that addressed the tragedy but also the good that has come from it over the years.” The Artigas even made a family pilgrimage to El Salvador: “"They saw people praying, placing their petitions," at the crypt, Artiga said, which showed his sons how some Salvadorans still revere him and pray to him to answer their petitions.”

Now, we must wait to see if more of Romero’s admirers will follow the Artigas in remembering Romero in a faith context. If they do so, they will be heeding Romero’s own words, when he pleaded in his last Sunday sermon, “my dear political brothers, one must … not manipulate the Church to make it say what we want it to say, rather we should say what the Church is teaching.” We must also wait to see if the hierarchy will be decisive in embracing its teaching function to guide the faithful and restore Archbishop Romero to his rightful place. As Fr. José M. Tojeira, Rector of Central America University argues in a forceful opinion piece entitled “We cannot wait 50 years,” the faithful expect the Church leadership to lead.

Photo: The faithful mark the 32nd anniversary of Msgr. Romero’s martyrdom in San Salvador with a Way of the Cross procession featuring quotes from Romero and drawing parallels between the Passion of Christ and social conditions of injustice and oppression. Credit: Frederick Meza, «El Faro
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