Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Defending Maradiaga


 
My guess is that Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga (pictured, sharing confidences with Pope Benedict) is used to criticism.  The late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez once denounced him as an “imperialist clown” during a public row between the Leftist strongman and the Cardinal.  And, Honduran leftists were so angry with the churchman over his support of the removal of a pro-Chávez populist president in Honduras that anonymous protesters fired shots at the Cardinal’s office in Tegucigalpa.  (Inset: graffiti demonizing the cardinal as a “golpista” or coup promoter.)  Now, Cardinal Rodríguez* has attracted the ire of the Catholic Right with an address setting forth his vision for the Church in Dallas, last month.  Although it’s unlikely they will want to kidnap him—as Chávez allegedly did—their criticisms are worth responding to because they come from within the Church.  The critiques are also worth addressing because they may presage a sign of things to come in Francis’ reform efforts.
In his speech, Cardinal Rodríguez casts the New Evangelization in the context of Vatican II, and he reads Francis’ call for a Church of the Poor in the context of the New Evangelization.  The address set off alarm bells among some conservatives who were quick to see in the Cardinal’s vision a modernist plot to redefine the mission of the Church in do-gooder secularist terms, bereft of any sign of liturgical renewal or spiritual salvation.  The alarmist conclusions appear to stem from unfamiliarity and suspicion, and a closer analysis reveals that the Cardinal’s proposals simply restate Pope Francis’ agenda.  In a scathing critique, John Zmirak suggested that the Cardinal’s tough words about U.S. capitalism means he wants “governments to seize wealth from some people, skim its own share off the top, and distribute that wealth to others. Those ‘others’ will doubtless be grateful, as Hugo Chavez’s supporters were in Venezuela…”  Anyone familiar with the Cardinal’s history with Hugo Chávez would find the suggestion that Rodríguez would go along with a Chavista scheme risible.  In fact, the Cardinal was critical of Honduran leader Manuel Zelaya because of his attempts to create a carbon copy of the Chávez plan in Honduras.  Zelaya had advisers in Venezuela,” Card. Rodríguez said, “and stirring up class hatred was the strategy.”  Clearly, not a strategy that Card. Rodríguez was comfortable with. So, any fear that Card. Rodríguez will want to emulate Hugo Chávez must be tempered by this history.
Similarly, Kevin Tierney at Common Sense Catholicism questioned whether Card. Rodríguez’ approach was simplistic and missing essential components.  State corruption is just as much a problem as global finance,” Mr. Tierney writes, “but we never hear His Eminence lay out a plan for how to reform political processes to weaken corrupt politicians.”  Maybe Mr. Tierney has never heard His Eminence lay out a plan for how to reform political processes, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.  Card. Rodríguez was president of Transparency Honduras, and he laid out a thoughtful plan in his opening address to the Forum on Strategic Commitments to Combat Corruption by Fomenting Transparency and Good Government in August 2006.  In fact, Card. Rodriguez has a long history of fighting corruption in his native country, heading a commission that restored civilian control over the Honduran police force.  Card. Rodriguez has even taken on the notorious criminal gangs that terrorize his country.  Rodriguez Maradiaga has been such an outspoken opponent of the drug trade in Central America,” writes John Allen, “that he’s had to move around with a military escort, given how often narco-terrorists have threatened his life.”  Given this background, the concern that Card. Rodríguez is missing the big picture really does not pan out.
Tierney’s critique points out a prevalent theme in the backlash to the Cardinal’s speech, which is that because the speech represents the first and most significant (and—one suspects—only) exposure by the critics to the Cardinal’s thought, the speech is mistaken to represent the entirety of the Cardinal’s worldview.  Mr. Tierney concludes that because the Cardinal did not address state corruption in his speech, then the Cardinal must not believe that state corruption is a problem worth addressing.  That’s a misreading of the speech and of the Cardinal.  But there are other misreadings.  Sometimes, the Cardinal’s critics glaringly seem to ignore what he says, pretending that he either does not say it, or that he says something else.  Fr. Dwight Longenecker complains of an overly secular bent, saying that, “in his talk on the New Evangelization the Cardinal does not mention the salvation of souls or the spiritual work of the church or the sacraments at all.” (All bolded emphases mine.)  But, that’s not true.  The Cardinal prefaces his discussion of the New Evangelization by saying that, “There is no possible reform of the Church without a return to Jesus.”  He says that, “If the Church seeks to follow Jesus, all she has to do is to continue telling the world what happened to Jesus, proclaiming His teachings and His life.”  The Cardinal’s focus on social justice and good works is premised on the salvation of souls: “If the Church wants to stay faithful, she must also continue purifying herself through the martyrdom and the sanctity of the faithful.”  And he explicitly states that a priest’s mission is primarily spiritual, being, “above all, a ‘minister of the Word,’ who must communicate to all the life that emanates from Christ, and for that reason devotes himself primarily to the altar and to the celebration of the sacraments.”
So, what gives? Some of the misunderstanding can be chalked up to lack of clarity in the language.  Some of the ecclesial talk in the Cardinal’s speech is dense, and he never clearly articulates a thesis for his speech, so there is some inherent ambiguity about the intended reach of the message.  But one also suspects that the Cardinal’s critics have a built-in bias, because they belong to a conservative sector of the Church and they (correctly) identify the Cardinal as belonging to the progressive current, and therefore read him with innate suspicion. Mr. Tierney associates the Cardinal’s views with Liberation Theology and appears to dismiss them, at least in part, for that reason: “His Eminence presents a liberation theology that attempts to be faithful to the Magesterium.  While I think it more or less succeeds, it still doesn't work for the same reason that Liberation Theology as a whole is a failure.”  But, as the Washington Post has pointed out, “Although he has spoken out against free-market policies and in defense of millions living in abject poverty in Central America, Rodriguez Maradiaga is an opponent of the ‘liberation theology’ that once supported leftist rebellions and sought to bend the rules of orthodoxy to bring the Church closer to Indian groups and the poor.” The Cardinal himself has said that he associates Liberation Theology with painful memories: “Here in Central America, the memory of the seventies and eighties is still very much alive: civil wars, guerrilla fighting, hundreds of thousands of deaths ...  These times may not come back.”  The Cardinal’s critics may be suspicious because he is a Latin American.  They might be surprised to learn that he is considered, “a moderate in a region of radicals.”  Finally, as the earlier points showed, some of the suspicion is compounded by ignorance about the Cardinal’s actual record.  Mr. Zmirak writes that the Cardinal’s promotion of social justice as a way to renew the Church is undercut by “the experience of the Church in Latin America, where large swaths of his flock have fled to Pentecostalism.”  In fact, Cardinal Rodríguez is consideredan adroit leader of the local church,” with burgeoning seminary enrollment (at “an all-time high” under his watch) and, according to the CIA World Factbook, 97% of Honduras is Catholic and only 3% Protestant.
The liberal NCR correspondent Michael Sean Winters argues that the criticisms of Card. Rodriguez are really attacks on Pope Francis: “The conservatives do not want to attack the pope directly, so they are attacking his most prominent advisor. It is an old tactic.”  I would not go that far, but I will say that there is certainly the danger of creating that impression.  Card. Rodríguez’ critics would be hard pressed to draw clear distinctions between what he said in Dallas and what Pope Francis said in his Civiltà Cattolica interview, for instance.  As Samuel Gregg wrote in the National Review, “if you want to get a sense of where Francis may take the Catholic Church regarding social and economic issues,” the best source would be the Final Document of the Latin American Bishops’ Conference at Aparecida.  Francis has referred to this document repeatedly during his young pontificate.  It was drafted by Cardinals Bergoglio and Rodríguez Maradiaga.  The Cardinal’s speech in Dallas is clearly an attempt to memorialize the various directives Pope Francis has given and begin to give them a programmatic structure.  I posit that this is the best reading of the Cardinal’s talk in Dallas.

* Although I refer to the Cardinal as "Maradiaga" for ease of identification in the title of this post, in the rest of the entry I refer to him as Card. Rodríguez, consistent with conventions for Latin American names.
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