blocked, block·ing, blocks
v.: To stop or impede the passage of or movement through; obstruct: block traffic.
Sports: To impede the movement of (an opponent or the ball) by physical interference.
Medicine: To interrupt or obstruct the proper functioning of (a physiological process), especially by the use of drugs.
Psychology: To fail to remember.
Following the announcement by Archbishop Vicenzo Paglia, the postulator of Óscar Romero’s canonization cause, that Pope Francis had “unblocked” the cause, a minor debate has broken out over whether Romero’s cause had ever been “blocked” to begin with, and thus whether “unblocking” was the right word to describe the latest development. To some, the word choice was perfect. “This is a carefully chosen word,” said Julian Filochowski of the UK-based Archbishop Romero Trust, “and it means that the Cause will leave the siding where it has been parked for more than a decade, whilst accusations that Archbishop Romero’s homilies went beyond the bounds of orthodoxy were examined by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.” He added, “It will now be put back on the regular road to sainthood under the auspices of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints—and in all probability it will be fast-tracked since the beatification of a martyr does not require a miracle.” But, unnamed “Vatican sources” told the Latin American Catholic Information Agency (ACI-Prensa) that the word “does not correspond to reality” —that Romero’s beatification cause “was not ‘unblocked’ because it was never blocked” to begin with (emphasis in original).It is the opinion of this Blog that Archbishop Romero’s beatification cause had come to a standstill, and that the personal intervention of the Pope was needed to get it moving again. In fact, an editorial published on this blog the day after Pope Francis was elected called on him to do just that (“Kick-start Oscar Romero’s Beatification,This Year”). Thus, the blockage was real, and the semantics quibbling is very revealing about the nature of the blockage. Without being too cute about it, the thing that was blocking the cause was the phenomenon of blocking, or dividing ourselves up into blocks within the Church. There was a hint of that in the ACI-Prensa story, which contained some choice digs at Archbishop Paglia and the Sant’ Egidio Movement within the Church, with which he is associated. The last line of the ACI-Prensa story reads, “Bishop Paglia is the first bishop of the Italian movement of Sant'Egidio, which for decades has chosen Romero as its emblem and which has been promoting his beatification cause.” (Paglia was raised to the dignity of Archbishop by Pope Benedict last July.) The charge that Sant’Egidio has “chosen Romero as its emblem” recalls the criticism made by Pope Benedict of the use of Romero’s image by the Left. “The problem” plaguing Romero’s cause, Benedict had said, “was that a political party wrongly wished to use him as their badge, as an emblematic figure.” Clearly, Benedict was referring to secular forces, not to the Sant’ Egidio movement, with which the Pontiff was close.
Sant’ Egidio has been seen in ascendancy in the last couple of years, with one of its founders, Andrea Riccardi, serving as a minister of the Italian government, and several of its clerics, including Paglia, assigned leading roles in the Vatican (Paglia was appointed President of the Pontifical Council on the Family by Pope Benedict last year). Indeed, the movement has been very supportive of Romero’s cause, promoting, for example, the commemoration of 20th century martyrs, including Romero, at the Tiber Island Basilica of St. Bartholomew, among other projects. But, Sant’ Egidio is hardly the only group within the Church supporting Romero’s beatification. Romero’s beatification has been supported by Pope John Paul II and—as the ACI-Prensa story takes pains to point out—by Pope Benedict XVI. Additionally, Msgr.Gregorio Rosa Chavez, the auxiliary bishop of San Salvador has said that Romero enjoys “overwhelming” support among Latin American bishops. Not surprisingly, the Jesuits have been supportive, officially calling for Romero’s canonization in 2005. The Carmelite Order has also adopted Romero as a patron saint of sorts, due in part to his closeness to the order during his lifetime (he lived in a Carmelite-run hospital and was assassinated there in 1980). Even the supposedly “ultra-conservative” Opus Dei has shown an interest, publishing an article on their web site following the “unblocking” announcement that highlights Romero’s closeness with their order.Romero also has many admirers at the highest levels of the Church’s hierarchy, including Card. Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, the moderator of the Pope’s “G8” Committee to run the global church and the Curia, and Card. Sean Patrick O’Malley, who serves on the same committee. Both men were listed among the “papabili” before this year’s conclave, both met Romero in life, and both describe Romero as a model bishop and martyr (see here and here). Romero also had admirers among the other papabili, including the odds-makers’ fave Card. Peter Turkson (who likened Romero to the “Good Shepherd”—see video), Card. João Braz de Aviz (“I think Romero’s life was a great example of holiness”—read here), Card. Crescenzio Sepe (called Romero “Pater Pauperum”—the Father of the Poor—read here), Card. Claudio Hummes (who appeared alongside Pope Francis in St. Peter’s loggia after the conclave, and who prompted his choice of name by telling him not to forget the poor—Romero thanked Hummes for his support a month before he was killed) and Gerhard Ludwig Müller, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who has attended Romero’s anniversary commemoration in San Salvador and called Romero “an example to every bishop” (see here).
Given such strong support, one might ask, how could a beatification cause be blocked? This is where Pope Benedict’s complaint that “a political party wrongly wished to use him as their badge” fits in, and it is coupled with Pope Francis’ repeated admonitions against allowing the criterions of worldliness to enter into the Church. “There are those that seek to compromise their faith for political alliances or for a worldly spirituality,” Francis complained in his book “On Heaven and Earth.” Applying the combined Benedict-Francis principles to the Romero canonization drive, we see how the concerns can operate, to the detriment of spiritual considerations. In politics, the extreme right hated Romero and assassinated him, while the Left rushed to his side and took him up as their emblem. Thereafter, progressives in the Church who sympathize with the Left supported Romero, while conservatives in the Church who distrusted the Left raised concerns and asked for additional study, and slowed down the process. No formal decree or mechanism of obstruction was implemented or required: the simple act of pitting one faction within the Church against another was sufficient to bring the process to a standstill, to a draw.In his Good Friday Homily inspired by Pope Francis’ admonition, and delivered in his presence, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, the Preacher of the Pontifical Household, explained how factionalism within the Church can stultify the Church’s message—and “block” the dynamism of its processes. Fr. Cantalamessa invoked the image of Franz Kafka’s short story “An Imperial Message,” in which the King’s messenger gets lost in the labyrinthine rooms of the royal castle, unable to deliver a dispatch from his master. “From his deathbed, Christ also confided to his Church a message,” said Fr. Cantalamessa. It was to “Go throughout the whole world, preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15). That message is stymied by “dividing walls, starting with those that separate the various Christian churches from one another, the excess of bureaucracy, the residue of past ceremonials, laws and disputes, now only debris,” said Fr. Cantalamessa. Over the centuries, he said, old buildings “become filled with partitions, staircases, rooms and closets” that respond “to the needs of the moment” they were created, but do not “meet the current needs.” In the Church, such partitions serve only as blockage, and need to be removed.
To the extent such blockage results from ideological divisions, they are condemned by Francis. “The ideologues falsify the gospel,” Pope Frances has declared, plain and simple: “Every ideological interpretation, wherever it comes from – from [whatever side] – is a falsification of the Gospel.” But the culture of blocking is so engrained that its very condemnation by the Pope gets interpreted through ideological filters. This was made clear to me recently while reading a popular Catholic blog’s response to Pope Francis’ admonition that those who defy the Second Vatican Council defy the Holy Spirit. “There is no doubt in my mind,” the Blogger declared, “that Francis is speaking about the SSPXers” (the reference is to the Society of St. Pius X, created by the excommunicated French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre). The comment section of the blog explodes into a Balkan debate: Did Pope Francis level his criticism at traditionalists in the Church? Was the criticism more suitable against progressives? In short, it does not seem to occur to anyone that the Pope is talking to everyone—to all the faithful—in the Church, and not to a single faction or block.Refreshingly, Archbishop Romero rejected blocking or factionalism. He once told a story in which he rejected the very “worldliness” that Pope Francis has condemned. “The other day,” Romero recounted, “one of the persons who proclaims liberation in a political sense was asked: ‘For you, what is the meaning of the Church’?” He went on that the activist, “answered with these scandalous words: ‘There are two churches, the church of the rich and the church of the poor. We believe in the church of the poor but not in the church of the rich’.” Romero declared, “Clearly these words are a form of demagogy and I will never admit a division of the Church.” He insisted, “There is only one Church, the Church that Christ preached, the Church to which we should give our whole hearts.” And while he warned against the idolatry of wealth, he reiterated that “There is only one Church, a Church that adores the living God and knows how to give relative value to the goods of this earth.” (November 11, 1979 Sermon.)
Now if only we all would listen!