Thursday, January 08, 2015

Vatican theologians recognize Romero is a martyr

From the Italian bishops' conference weekly:

The Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero was murdered “in hatred of the faith.” The news comes in the preview edition of “Avvenire” for Friday, January 9, 2015. The members of the commission of theologians at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints gave their unanimously positive vote about the martyrdom suffered by the Archbishop of San Salvador March 24 1980. It is a decisive step for the Latin American bishop, killed while celebrating the Eucharist and whom the people already acclaim as a saint. Now, according to the canonical practice for the beatification, next is the judgment of the commission of bishops and cardinals, and finally the approval of the Pope. The case, which began in March 1994 and concluded the diocesan phase the following year, landed in Rome in 1997, promoted by the postulator Monsignor Vincenzo Paglia. Pope Francis quoted Romero just in his last general audience: the archbishop of San Salvador, said Bergoglio, said that mothers live a “maternal martyrdom “.
Initial analysis

First of all, the import of the theologians’ vote is that it enables the Church to designate Archbishop Romero as a “Blessed.”  This is the first step in the two step canonization process—in the second step, Romero can be called a “Saint.”  The first step is called beatification; the second step is canonization. Because Romero was proposed for the sainthood as a martyr, the decree certifying the validity of martyrdom is all that it takes for him to be beatified.  Someone who is not a martyr (like Mother Teresa or St. John Paul II) require the certification of a miracle in order to be beatified; Romero will not.  

All sainthood candidates, including martyrs like Romero, require a miracle for the second step (canonization), unless the requirement is waived by the Pope.

As the blurb indicates, after the theologians’ vote, there are still some formalities to be completed for beatification but, make no mistake, convincing the theologians is the biggest hurdle.  If we had to think of a secular metaphor to explain the process and the significance of the theologians’ vote, we could think of it as similar to the jury process under U.S. law.  If the jury finds in your favor, that is a major step.  You may still need to have that verdict certified by the court clerk, and have the judge issue a judgment, but the “heavy lifting” is done.

It is also significant that the report mentions that the nine theologians’ judgment was unanimous.  This suggests that there is not necessarily a dramatic disconnect between those inside the Church and the outside world, where Romero has been very broadly accepted.  It lends credence to the theory (espoused here) that the hesitation about beatifying Romero had to do with “prudential concerns” (in Pope Francis’ words) rather than with the merits of the case.  The nine theologians’ unanimous vote will also make it very difficult for any remaining skeptics (of which there are a few) to argue that Romero is not deserving of the sainthood.

Last month, this blog predicted that the decree for Romero’s beatification could come in the February-March time frame and this development is consistent with that scenario.  The cardinals will be meeting on Feb. 3rd, when they will be considering the martyrdom of three clerics killed by Shining Path guerrillas in Peru--causes that raise similar issues to Romero.  Therefore, it could make sense for the cardinals to consider Romero at the same meeting.  If Romero was approved at this time, it would allow Pope Francis to present Romero's decree to the ordinary consistory of cardinals now set for Feb. 14.  This would be especially useful if there is any serious thought about skipping beatification and going straight to canonization of Romero in El Salvador. 


FINAL (Sunday, January 11): The Archdiocese of San Salvador broke its silence during the Archbishop’s customary news conference after Sunday Mass.  Archbishop José Luis Escobar acknowledged the news from Rome and said the Church was thankful, and supported President Sánchez Cerén’s plan to invite all the presidents of Latin America to a beatification ceremony.  The archbishop acknowledged that “some think” skipping beatification and proceeding to canonize Romero is an option.  “If God wanted him to be canonized in a single step, it would be much better,” he added.  Escobar said that the Salvadoran bishops’ conference is asking priests to include the Romero beatification prayer after every mass.  He also thanked Pope Francis, “because after God himself, he has been the principal driver of this cause.”


Because the vote of the theologians still needs to be confirmed, neither the Vatican nor the Salvadoran Church have issued a formal statement as of Friday, January 9.  In fact, Rev. Federico Lombardi, the official Vatican spokesman, declined to confirm or deny the news.  Lombardi noted that Pope Francis quoted Romero at this week’s general audience, “meaning he is following the cause with attention and interest.” 

In El Salvador, President Salvador Sánchez Cerén is reported to have promised that, if the Vatican declares Romero a saint and the ceremony is held in the country, he will invite every head of state of the hemisphere to come share his country’s joy.  Foreign minister Hugo Martinez expressed the “jubilation” of the Salvadoran government at the news.

Additionally, reactions have been abundant in the social media sphere.

The postulator of Romero’s cause, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, posted his reaction on his Twitter account.  “Thanks to the Lord!,” Paglia tweeted.  “Archbishop Romero loved Jesus, the Gospel, the Church and his people.  He gave his life for all four!

In San Salvador, the man who had been the postulator of Romero’s cause during the diocesan phase (see chart below for reference) was more reserved.  Msgr. Rafael Urrutia tweeted a reminder that the vote of the theologians still needs to be confirmed by a commission of cardinals and bishops, and then approved by Pope Francis.  “But this is great news that gladdens the heart, the Church, and those who love Archbishop Romero,” his statement said.

The Romero Foundation in El Salvador posted on its Facebook account, "We hope that the official news will arrive soon!"

Meanwhile, also in El Salvador, the local press reported that the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, who will be in El Salvador to commemorate the anniversary of the Peace Accords that ended the 1980-1992 Civil War in that country, would visit Archbishop Romero’s grave next week.

Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD, author and collaborator of a musical group who released a popular song about Romero, told Super Martyrio that the news was a vindication for “those who see justice as integral to the message of the gospel” because “it indicates that Romero’s stance against the repression of the people of El Salvador was in and of itself a gospel imperative, as well as a pastoral duty.”


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