Tuesday, January 05, 2016

New bishop for El Salvador


Fr. Iraheta in the chapel where Bl. Romero was assassinated.
#BlessedRomero #MartyrOfMercy
Pope Francis has made his first episcopal appointment in El Salvador, appointing a successor for Blessed Oscar Romero—not as Archbishop of San Salvador, but as Bishop of Santiago de Maria, where Romero was the ordinary from 1974 to 1977.  As in other appointments, Francis has chosen a pastoral moderate in the Rev. William Ernesto Iraheta Rivera, a “straight arrow” 53 year-old priest known for his outspokenness on social issues.
Fr. Iraheta will replace the 77 year-old Msgr. Rodrigo Orlando Cabrera Cuéllar, whose canonically-mandated resignation upon turning 75 has been now accepted by the Pope.  Bishop Cabrera had held the office since 1984. Both the outgoing Cabrera and the incoming Iraheta profile as center-left clerics and, therefore, the nomination represents continuity in the Salvadoran bishops’ conference.
Fr. Iraheta’s elevation has all the earmarks of a Bergoglian appointment.  As described by Vatican analyst John Allen Jr., in his episcopal appointments, Pope Francis “has insisted that he has no intention of altering traditional Catholic doctrine, but he wants a more compassionate and merciful application of that teaching at the pastoral level, meaning in parishes and other local venues in the Church.” 
Iraheta fits the Francis mold, having spent 13 of his 17 years in the priesthood as a pastor, and the other four years as an associate pastor (full disclosure: Fr. Iraheta spent the first ten years of his career in my boyhood parish of San Roque in San Salvador).  Iraheta had also served as moderator of the curia, and had recently been tapped to be the seminary rector, an office that will need to be reassigned.
Fr. Iraheta is reminiscent of the appointment of Matteo Maria Zuppi as Archbishop of Bologna, in Italy.  Like Zuppi, Iraheta has demonstrated a sensibility for social issues.  In 2010, he was quoted as saying that even though Salvadorans technically lived in peace, “It remains a pending task for institutions to work for the people.”  In 2011, he sounded an early warning on escalating gang violence and blamed the problem on economic factors: “Having removed the human person from its rightful place in society and having replaced it with economic considerations, we have stopped cultivating people and now only cultivate production,” he cautioned—sounding a bit like Pope Francis.
The Iraheta appointment shows another Bergoglio touch in that Fr. Iraheta was raised directly from the priesthood to the episcopate, bypassing a probationary period in an “auxiliary bishop” capacity as understudy to a more senior prelate.  Moreover, naming Iraheta may also be somewhat of a hat tip to the Blessed Romero, as Iraheta was a high profile member of the commission that helped plan and stage the very successful beatification ceremony last year.
Event though Iraheta’s appointment does not signal a major change, it still has the nostalgic feel of a transition because of unrelated recent news in El Salvador which highlight the changing of the guard, particularly among Romero’s followers.  First, one former Romero aide, Msgr. Jesus Delgado, was brought down in a sexual abuse scandal late last year. Then, on new year’s eve, another Romero confidant, Msgr. Ricardo Urioste, who turned 90 in September, fell and injured his head and was left in critical condition.  Also, Fr. José María Tojeira, S.J., former rector of the Jesuit university, was injured in a car accident.
Therefore, what John Allen calls Pope Francis’ “pastoral revolution” may still look dramatic as it comes to the land of Blessed Oscar Romero.

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The episcopal ordination of Fr. Iraheta will be Saturday March 12, the 39th anniversary of the martyrdom of Father Rutilio Grande, in Santiago de Maria. The consecrating bishop will be Msgr. Cabrera, with the participation of the Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Leon Kalenga and San Salvador Archbishop Msgr. José Luis Escobar as co-consecrators.

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