JUBILEE YEAR for the CENTENNIAL of BLESSED ROMERO, 2016 — 2017
|Clockwise from top left: Francis and Vigano in 2015; Jon Sobrino; St. John Paul with Cardenal; Romero and Paul VI.|
In these tense days following the allegations of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò that Pope Francis covered up abuse of seminarians by former-cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a furor erupted over Cardinal Blase Cupich’s characterization of the Pope’s conservative critics: “Quite frankly, they also don’t like him because he’s a Latino,” the Archbishop of Chicago was quoted as saying. Although I cringed when I read that—because I knew it would not go over well—I gotta say he has a point.
There is a history of Latin Americans getting disrespected in the Church. The most infamous case would probably be Fr. Ernesto Cardenal getting a finger wagged in his face in front of all the cameras as he knelt to kiss the ring of St. John Paul II, who did not approve of the leftwing priest’s acceptance of a position in Nicaragua’s Sandinista regime.
In November 2006, Spanish-Salvadoran Jon Sobrino, S.J., received a Notificatio—a very formal public admonition from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith about doctrinal shortcomings in two of his books about Christ and the poor.
Then, there’s the case of Blessed Oscar Romero, who according to a black legend, was supremely dissed by St. John Paul II. Readers of the blog know that I dispute that particular narrative, but there is no doubt that others treated Romero very poorly. He was spoken down to by Vatican officials such as Cardinal Sebastiano Baggio, Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops; and he was even openly upbraided by a low-ranking monsignor at the Nuncio’s house in El Salvador, a certain Father (now cardinal) Lorenzo Baldisseri.
This is not to say anything of the outright racism in Latin American Church history: Saint Martin of Porres was rejected by various religious orders because of his African descent; the ‘Indian’ Saint Juan Diego was disbelieved by his bishop when he first reported the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
So, when some of Latin Americans see the treatment of Francis by some, we cannot help but analyze how there was no move among first world progressives to issue a “correction” of Pope Benedict over Summorum Pontificum, nor were there any calls for St. John Paul II to resign over his support for serial sexual abuser Marcial Maciel. The reason is likely that John Paul and Benedict were accorded the high level of deference traditionally granted to a Supreme Pontiff, but Francis appears to get little of that deference.
To be sure, the current conflict in the Church has nothing to do with Romero and there is currently no danger that the divisions will serve to diminish Romero’s figure through association with the ‘damaged’ pontificate of Pope Francis, nor because the canonization will occur in a divided Church. We can be confident of this because Romero is not a party to the current controversies. That is, Romero was never involved in matters relating to the developments of doctrine as to communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, is not implicated in any sex abuse cover-up, nor was he permissive in upholding traditional teachings as to matters such as clergy celibacy, homosexuality, contraception, etc. In fact, he was conservative on such issues.
But Blessed Romero is relevant to the current upheaval because Romero is a great example of a pastoral mission that must operate under siege, and a sign of hope that time vindicates a prophetic ministry even if the turmoil and opposition of the moment appear to threaten its viability. There are various layers here. First, a prophet is inconvenient to groups and structures of power and engenders resistance. Second, dark forces will arise that have no qualms about using the tools of calumny, character assassination, deception. Third, resistance, even though it is worldly, will seep into the ranks of the Church and create division among its members. Fourth, although confusion will reign, the Holy Spirit will nourish the faithful. And fifth, history will vindicate the righteous: “If they kill me,” Romero comforted himself, “I shall arise in the Salvadoran people.”
|Salvadoran propaganda rags constantly libeled Romero.|
In this latter regard, it is telling that Archbishop Viganò targets several Romero supporters for his attacks in his so-called “Testimony.” Viganò attacks, first and foremost, Pope Francis. I say “attacks” because Viganò makes little effort to conceal his contempt for the Holy Father, to whom he attributes sinister motives and gives no benefit of the doubt. According to Archbishop Viganò, Pope Francis does not simply ask something; instead, he asks “in a deceitful way” (usually one would not think that a question deceives!). He does not exclaim; he “assail[s] ... with a tone of reproach.” And he does not make mistake in judgments—he engages in “grave, disconcerting and sinful conduct.” When has a nuncio spoken of a Pope this way?
Viganò also targets Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, Postulator of the Canonization Cause for Romero, a mean-spirited attack. Viganò asserts that Archbishop Paglia “belong[s] to the homosexual current in favor of subverting Catholic doctrine on homosexuality, a current already denounced in 1986 by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then-Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith[.]” The charge is specious in every respect. First, Archbishop Paglia has shown no such penchant to want to change the doctrine to favor homosexuality. He is not an activist on the subject, and he simply has no record of supporting such an agenda.
The claim that Archbishop Paglia belongs to any current denounced by Cardinal Ratzinger is especially risible because it was Cardinal Ratzinger, as Pope Benedict, who appointed Paglia to key posts, including the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization in 2011 and—importantly—to head the Pontifical Council for the Family in 2012. Pope Benedict appeared alongside Archbishop Paglia on various occasions, including at events for the St. Egidio Community, of which Archbishop Paglia is a trusted advisor.
Viganò’s accusations against Archbishop Paglia are in line with repeated hit pieces run by LifeSite News against Archbishop Paglia in the last couple of years. LifeSite News is one of two outlets to which the Viganò “Testimony” was exclusively provided. The LifeSite stories have peddled the false narrative that, one, Paglia is some deviant (based on prudish and far-fetched stories about a mural for the Terni Cathedral while Paglia was bishop there) and, two, that this reflects poorly on Francis because Paglia was in the Roman Curia, totally overlooking the fact that both the mural and the appointment of Paglia to the Roman Curia happened under Benedict (and that Francis actually removed Paglia from the Roman Curia, though certainly not as any disciplinary measure, because one was never warranted).
After I read these misleading and tendentious accusations by Archbishop Viganò, I concluded that this was all I need to know—for now—about the conclusions urged in his accusation. I grant that the factual claims regarding McCarrick and any cover-up need to be investigated, but the facile conclusions Viganò would have us draw about Pope Francis and Archbishop Paglia are based on misleading and downright false characterizations and innuendo and must be taken with a grain of salt. Finally, I need to say that as an observer of the Romero cause, I have followed Archbishop Paglia for years and have met him, and know him to be a good and decent man who does not deserve this drive-by treatment.
|+Paglia with Bl. Paul VI, St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis.|
In conclusion, the canonizations in October will not be tainted by these episodes. Instead, the new saints—especially Romero who died a martyr only to be “defamed, slandered, soiled” posthumously (in the words of Pope Francis), and Paul VI, who presided over a tempestuous papacy (where he was even accused of homosexual inclinations!)—will show us how Christians must withstand attacks with dignity and stay above the fray.