BEATIFICATION OF ARCHBISHOP ROMERO, MAY 23, 2015
#BlessedRomero #MartyrOfMercyThe accepted narrative about the beatification of Oscar Romero, Bishop and Martyr, is that it represents the triumph of the progressive wing of the Church over the conservative opposition—a victory facilitated by the entry of Pope Francis on the stage. Surely there are elements of truth in this version of events, but there is another reading of the same facts, in which the Romero beatification represents not so much a unilateral success as a balanced deal. The elevation of Archbishop Romero to the altars is a celebration of the harmony achieved after a period of conflict—not only in El Salvador but in the entire Church.
“The beatification of Monseñor Romero, Bishop and Martyr, is a celebration of joy and brotherhood,” said Cardinal Angelo Amato in his beatification homily. In fact, we have seen how the beatification ceremony—so splendid and majestic—placated the tensions that arose in the days before the event: tensions between activists and church people, among historic followers of Romero and admirers of recent vintage, among progressive Catholics and those of a more traditionalist bent. The beatification held on the weekend of Pentecost forged a truce of sorts within the church, with the various factions apparently unified around Romero; their diversities harmonious as the colors of the famous solar halo that crowned the celebration.
But beyond a symbolic peace, the beatification was “a turning point for Catholicism,” according to Vatican observer John Allen Jr., and “arguably the most important beatification of the early 21st century” because it consolidated a settlement of historical debates within the Church. Similarly, columnist Ross Douthat of the New York Times believes that “it’s fair to look at the progress of the slain archbishop’s cause—which was originally unblocked, not by Francis, but by Benedict—as a case study in how Catholicism often unpolarizes itself after an era of division.” Both Allen and Douthat highlight the fact that the joint action of the “conservative” Pope Benedict and the “liberal” Pope Francis, gave impetus to the beatification.
As explained by Allen, the agreement that the beatification of Archbishop Romero formalizes is a Catholic social doctrine that excludes the most strident currents of liberation theology, but accepts and embraces its moderate vision. “If ‘liberation theology’ means fighting poverty and struggling for justice, the answer is yes; if it means armed Marxist rebellion and class struggle, it’s no.”
A book published in the wake of the beatification, Religious Responses to Violence (Notre Dame University Press, 2015), recognizes the Romero beatification as the seal of approval to such understanding, and goes further to say that it was Romero’s martyrdom that gave rise to that arrangement. According Virginia Garrard-Burnett in the book, Archbishop Romero’s martyrdom became an exemplary model for committed clergy, who had to account for Romero’s total repudiation of armed insurrection, and his constant interpellation to nonviolence. On the other hand, his execrable assassination exposed the ignoble face of violence, and by contrast the virtue and moral superiority of the victim of violence who allows himself to be immolated without succumbing to the temptation to respond with force. Of course, there was also pressure and correction from the Vatican that channeled the liberationist movement toward moderation.
It was Pope Benedict, the great promoter of corrections to Liberation Theology during the eighties, who unblocked the Romero cause, and it was Angelo Amato, a co-signer of the doctrinal correction to liberation theologian Jon Sobrino, who presided over the beatification ceremony. And while it is true that the arrival of Pope Francis accelerated the thaw between the Vatican and Liberation Theology, Benedict had already paved the way with the appointment of Gerhard Ludwig Müller, the great friend of the “father” of the movement, as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
In his last Pentecost homily, Benedict said that “unity can only exist as a gift of God’s Spirit.” In fact, said the now emeritus pontiff, “This is what happened at Pentecost. Where there had been division and alienation, unity and understanding were born.”
During the Romero beatification, Cardinal Amato said that “Romero is not a symbol of division, but of peace, of harmony, of fraternity.” His beatification “is a gift of the Holy Spirit for the Church and for the noble nation of El Salvador.”
It is the gift of a beatification celebrated on Pentecost weekend.