It has become a tradition for my friend Tim, of Tim’s El Salvador Blog, to send me a Christmas card asking whether next year will be “the year.” This year, I can make my answer as succinct as his question: Yes, Tim—after a 35-year wait, Archbishop Óscar A. Romero of El Salvador will almost certainly be beatified this year.
[See also: 2014, the Romero Year]
Church leaders in San Salvador are so confident that 2015 will be “the year” that they do not question whether or if Romero will be beatified, but only debate incidental details, such as where and when the beatification ceremony will take place, and who will preside it. Reasonable confidence seems warranted from the fact that Pope Francis ordered all Romero-related materials held by any Vatican office to be consolidated before the Congregation for the Causes of Saints processing Romero’s file and that, with the Pope’s urging, that file was closed and its final report issued late last year and is only pending review by a panel of theologians, the confirmation of a commission of cardinals, and the final approval of the Pope. Accordingly, those in the know expect a final decision within the first quarter of the year.
Additionally, debate over incidental details of the ceremony takes on a larger importance than with most beatifications because of the Pope’s interest, and the very real possibility that Pope Francis will take part in the beatification ceremony. Francis biographer Austen Ivereigh writes that it is “likely” that the Pope himself will beatify Romero. At this stage, there is no consensus whether Francis’ participation would entail a papal visit to El Salvador or whether Francis would perform the beatification at St. Peter’s, but the conventional wisdom is that Francis would go to El Salvador either as a side trip from his visit to Philadelphia in September, or as part of a separate trip to Latin America sometime this year. Ivereigh reports that there is also an outside chance that Francis would canonize Romero outright, proclaiming Romero a saint without the usual intermediate step of beatification.
With no other major canonization on calendar for 2015, Archbishop Romero seems likely to cast a long shadow in the church’s saint-making function. “It would be a highly symbolic moment for Latin America, but above all for the vision for caring for the poor outlined by the Conference of Latin American Bishops in 1968,” Ivereigh analyzed. Romero’s beatification had been delayed over accusations that Romero was a Marxist sympathizer but, after intense study, those concerns were overcome. “Given Pope Francis’ opposition, while a young Jesuit, to certain Marxist-influenced strands of liberation theology, but his embrace of the option for the poor, this will be a significant moment for the Latin-American Church,” Ivereigh wrote. Ivereigh’s biography of Pope Francis, “The Great Reformer” (Henry Holt and Co., 2014), examines the experiences of Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Argentina to illuminate his papal mission.
With the caveat that there are moving pieces to the puzzle (the canonization process and the papal travel considerations—which are usually a work in progress with our current Pontiff), any announcement seems likely to come in the time range from about mid-February till about mid-March. This is not to suggest that the result is guaranteed. As we learned from the recent experience with the Fulton Sheen beatification cause, the human factor, be it human error/ego or simple obstinacy, can arise at the last minute and derail the best laid plans.
Accordingly, in canonizations as in opera, it ain’t over until the fat lady sings.
Prior Year Reports:
Beatification Outlook 2014
Beatification Outlook 2013 (Spanish)
Beatification Outlook 2012 (Spanish)
Beatification Outlook 2011
Beatification Outlook 2008 (Spanish)
Beatification Outlook 2007
Beatification Outlook 2006