Friday, July 08, 2011

Archbishop Romero and the Popes (cont’d)

Half a century before he was smeared as “Hitler's Pope” (in a 1999 book by John Cornwell), Pius XII (pontificate: 1939-1958) was accused of sympathy for the fascists, and the newly ordained Fr. Oscar Romero (photo) was horrified by the criticism. “Great blasphemies are horribly unforgettable,” he wrote in a diocesan publication, “and I will never forget a satanic caricature that depicted [Pope Pius XII] in an unseemly embrace with Hitler and Mussolini.” (O.A.R., El papa y las responsabilidades de la Guerra [The Pope and the responsibilities of war], CHAPARRASTIQUE, No.1574 p. 1, July 15, 1945, available here—in Spanish.) This is a series on Romero’s fidelity to the popes and their social teachings. 

The accusation against Pius was, “False,” Romero declared: “The serene word of the Vatican in the midst of political storms and great errors has spoken clearly to anyone who wishes to hear it,” he wrote. (CHAP., Ibid.) Later, as archbishop, Romero still recalled Pius as a “venerable” (April 23, 1978 Sermon) and “great” Pontiff (August 15, 1977 Sermon).

Pius had won Romero over as soon as he emerged from the balcony of St. Peter’s as Supreme Pontiff and revealed his papal motto—Opus justitiae pax (“Peace is the fruit of justice”). Peace, Romero would preach, is “defined using the words of the prophet Isaiah and Pope Pius XII who used the following motto on his coat of arms: Opus justitiae pax.” (Pius’ motto is taken from Isaiah 32:17—July 3, 1977 Sermon.) “Any other peace is fictitious and mere words,” Romero insisted, citing Pius’s motto. (April 23, 1978 Sermon.) “No one can speak of peace with a pistol or a rifle in hand; this is fear,” Romero expounded: “This is the peace of death and repression, but not true peace,” he said. “There will only be peace when there is justice.” (July 1977, Ibid.) In his last pastoral letter, Romero harkened to Pius’s message of peace, quoting him: “ ‘Nothing is lost by peace, everything may be lost in war’.” (The Church's Mission amid the National Crisis, Fourth Pastoral Letter of Archbishop Romero, August 6, 1979.)

In his first encyclical letter, Pius denounced fascist claims of racial superiority (Christianity reveals “the consciousness of universal brotherhood”) and dictatorship itself (it is wrong to “accord the civil authority an unrestricted field of action that is at the mercy ... of the interests of a few”), saying they were the two great errors of the modern age. («SUMMI PONTIFICATUS,» ¶¶ 49, 52.) Romero would accord great moral authority to Pius’s pronouncements, and he would later recall that Pius had not only condemned Communism, but also the excesses of the other extreme. “Pope Pius XII published a document,” Romero said, “to condemn Marxism. There is no problem with this...” (August 20, 1978 Sermon.) But, this was only half the story.

The Church had also condemned, Romero recalled, “the form of anti-communism that is inspired not just by Christian principles but also by selfish interests, interests that from the time of Pope Pius XII have been called accomplices of communism,” because their red-baiting fails to address the conditions that provide a breeding ground for revolutions, and thus invite communism. (July 9, 1978 Sermon.) In his second pastoral letter, Archbishop Romero quoted Pope Pacelli, who had remarked that, “ ‘some of the advocates of the right to private property ... manage only, even more successfully than their opponents, to put it in danger’.” (The Church, The Body of Christ in History, Second Pastoral Letter of Archbishop Romero, August 6, 1977.)

Doubtlessly, Romero also revered Pius, who was called “Pastor Angelicus,” for his spiritual stewardship of the Church. It had been Pius who, in his Apostolic constitution «MUNIFICENTISSIMUS DEUS,» had declared the doctrine of the bodily Assumption of Mary—and set the Feast of the Assumption on August 15, the day that Romero was born. Romero wholeheartedly approved of the Pope’s action, arguing that, “The great Pontiff, Pius XII,” did not “invent the fact that Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven.” (August 15, 1977 Sermon, supra.) The Pope had only confirmed the fact by virtue of his institutional authority, Romero said, but, “We believe this truth, not because the Holy Father has spoken, but because God has spoken, and revealed this to us in Sacred Scripture and the living tradition of the Church.” (Ibid.)

And Romero always recalled Pius’s radio message to Salvadoran Catholics in 1942, in which he assured that Christ the Savior “will save your country and make it great, attaining for it even greater material prosperity, uniting every heart as one, of all the social classes, of the rich and of the poor, on the day that all shall wish to sit together as brethren at the same table.” (Pius XII’s Radio Message to the First National Eucharistic Congress of El Salvador, November 26, 1942—in Spanish). Romero cited the message in his third pastoral letter and it became a cornerstone of Romero’s preaching on Christ’s liberation.

Like Pius XII, Romero, too, was maligned and “caricatured” by his critics. He identified with Pius from the day he offered his first Mass during Pius’s pontificate, beseeching God to “Govern with constant protection your servant, the Roman Pontiff.” (Memorial Card, Oscar A. Romero—My First Solemn Mass, Ciudad Barrios, January 11, 1944.)

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