Friday, October 10, 2014

Abp. Romero at the Synod for the Family

Ab. Romero officiating a wedding in the chapel where he was martyred.

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If one wanted to find a prelate in the likeness of Archbishop Óscar A. Romero at the Synod of Bishops on the Family, the closest fit might arguably be Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  Of all the prominent figures at the Synod, Card. Müller best reflects the unique combination of tradition and innovation of Romero.  Although Müller has been in the press for his opposition to easing restrictions on Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, he considers Liberation Theology to be “among the most important currents in 20th century Catholic theology,” and is a great admirer of Archbishop Romero.

Similarly, Romero who is a progressive hero for his hard line on social justice, was conservative on marriage and family.  When St. John Paul II acknowledged the need for “pastoral care” for divorced and remarried Catholics at the end of the 1980 Synod on the Family, Romero responded coolly to the idea.  Naturally,” Romero remarked, “the Pope is not speaking about blessing adultery but he is calling us to be understanding because pastoral experience has taught us much about the suffering of those homes where people were not faithful to their commitment.”  Divorced and remarried Catholics, said Romero, “should know that they can rely on God’s mercy and that the Church will continue to walk with them so that they might be converted and live.”  Romero’s words, emphasizing the failure to be “faithful” and need to be “converted” reflects a traditional disposition on the question.

Romero had spoken at length on the issue a few months before, arguing that the Church needed to reassert traditional values (“austerity”—not “mercy”) to counteract shifting sexual mores.  In the Church, Romero said, “marriage has been redeemed as a sacrament, a most high vocation that today more than ever before must be lived in the fullness of a demand that our people claim as their own.”  Thus, he added: “My beloved sisters and brothers, now is not the time for immorality but for austerity and if marriage is above all an image of the infinite love of God, then this demands an austerity of life that is needed at this time of change.”

Of course, this is a different time and a different kairos—and we really cannot predict what Romero would do in this setting.

Among the bishops at the synod was Msgr. José Escobar Alas, the current Archbishop of San Salvador (about to pass under the statue of Ven. Paul VI in the photo).  CNS photo.

One voice in the Synod that would certainly have resonated with Romero was that of Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, who pleaded for the Synod’s focus not to lose sight of the devastating toll poverty takes on the family lives of many Catholics.  Poverty “affects relationships,” Card. Tagle said.  One dramatic effect of poverty is migration. De facto there is separation of couples and separation of parents from their children, but not because they could not stand each [other], not because there is a breakdown in communication, not because of conflicts,” the Cardinal said.  They get separated because they love each other and the best way for some of them to show concern and love and support is to leave and find employment elsewhere.”  He added that the airport “has become a traumatic place for me—not because of my travels and the dangers—but to see and hear especially mothers talking to their children in the airport, bidding them goodbye, and you can see how their hearts are broken.”

Romero, too, was greatly concerned about the damage to family life caused by extreme poverty. Earlier this year, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the Postulator of Archbishop Romero’s canonization cause and the President for the Pontifical Council on the Family, said that Romero would be a saint for families.  He pointed to Romero’s impassioned defense of the peasant families, squeezed by enormous socioeconomic pressure and oppression.  In his fourth pastoral letter, Romero documented in great detail the various ways in which poor families are challenged by structural injustice.  This is not to say that Romero gave poor families a pass on their own responsibility.  The church knows perfectly well that among those who lack material goods there is a great deal of sinfulness,” he wrote. “In the name of the preferential option for the poor there can never be justified the machismo, the alcoholism, the failure in family responsibility, the exploitation of one poor person by another, the antagonism among neighbors, and the so many other sins” found in society.

Lastly, we hear echoes of Romero in the Synod’s message to families who suffer from violence and persecution in places like Iraq, Syria, and other war-torn lands.  Romero mobilized in defense of families affected by the civil strife in El Salvador, creating an archdiocesan Legal Aid Office that defended the rights of political prisoners and victims of atrocities.  He comforted the “Mothers of the Disappeared” and consoled the families of hostages, of all political stripes.  When businessman Jaime Hill Argüello was kidnapped by guerrillas in 1979, Romero pleaded, “I beg you on my knees, if it is necessary, to return freedom to the people, our sisters and brothers and thus restore tranquility to these beloved homes.”  (In a happy postscript, today Hill Argüello works with his former captors to protect deported Salvadorans.)

It really is impossible to know where Romero would stand on the issues facing the Synod.  Given his historical positions, it is nearly possible to see his shadow over the proceedings.  What most appears certain is that he would be attentive to the developments and conclusions.


The current Archbishop of San Salvador, Msgr. José Luis Escobar Alas, spoke out against the effects of criminalized violence and poverty on the family.  “Violence has gained much power in El Salvador, to the point that gangs outnumber police,” said the prelate.  He stated that Salvadoran families are severely affected by crime and are the victims of extortion, murder and kidnapping.  Throughout El Salvador, it has become common practice for criminal gangs to extort “rent” payments from small business owners, such as grocery store operators and cab drivers, in exchange for the gangs’ protection, which practically means in exchange for being left alone.  When payments are not made, families are threatened, kidnapped or even killed in grizzly, exemplary executions meant to terrorize the citizenry.  Another drama that Salvadorans face, according to the prelate, is poverty, which has forced thousands of families to disintegrate, because some members had to leave the country to seek the opportunities to eke out a livelihood abroad.

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