He was supposed to be the “Panzer Kardinal,” the persecutor of Liberation Theology who was going to destroy the social doctrine of the Church and its commitment to the poor. Instead, as Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger expanded the social doctrine to include ecological concerns, issued a new social encyclical, and made the following comments about Archbishop Oscar A. Romero:
· “That Romero as a person merits beatification, I have no doubt.” (Remarks to Reporters on Papal Flight to Brazil, May 9, 2007)
· “Archbishop Romero was certainly an important witness of the faith, a man of great Christian virtue who worked for peace and against the dictatorship, and was assassinated while celebrating Mass. Consequently, his death was truly 'credible', a witness of faith.” (Ibid.)
· “The Gospel” has been “preached fervently by Pastors full of love for God such as Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero.” (Speech to visiting Salvadoran bishops, Feb. 28, 2008)
The similarities between Pope Benedict and Archbishop Romero may be surprising to those who accept the portraits of Romero as a dyed-in-the-wool adherent of Liberation Theology, and of Ratzinger as an absolute enemy of the defenders of the poor (which are caricatures of both clergymen that this blog has worked assiduously to disprove). To illustrate the point one final time, we recap some of the similarities between Archbishop Romero and Pope Benedict that we have analyzed here.
Joseph Ratzinger was born in 1927, under the pontificate of Pius XI—Oscar Romero’s favorite Pope.
Oscar Romero was born in 1917, during the pontificate of Pope Benedict XV—the pope Joseph Ratzinger honored with his papal name.
Both men were appointed archbishops in 1977 by Pope Paul VI: Ratzinger was ordained a priest in 1951 and Pope Paul appointed him Archbishop of Munich and Freising in March 1977 and raised him to cardinal in June of that year.
Romero was ordained a priest in 1942 and Paul VI raised him to the episcopate in 1970, made him a consultor on the Pope’s Pontifical Commission on Latin America in 1975, and appointed him Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977.
Romero cited «POPULORUM PROGRESSIO» in sixteen different sermons over the three years he was archbishop and called Paul, the man “who continually enlightens my thinking” on the social doctrine of the Church.
— Second Vatican Council—
Benedict: Vatican II must be understood through a “'hermeneutic of reform', of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.” (Greetings to the Roman Curia, December 22, 2005.)
Romero: “When dealing with the changes in the Church, we need to ask God for the grace that will enable us to embrace these changes in a way that will allow us to understand the present reality without betraying our faith.” This is because “we are firmly anchored in the heart and the faith of Jesus Christ,” and “this does not change.” (Mar. 23, 1980 Hom.)
— Liberation Theology—
Benedict: “John Paul II, in his address at Puebla, recalled the three pillars upon which any authentic theology of liberation will rest: 'truth about Jesus Christ', 'truth about the Church', and 'truth about mankind'.” (Instruction, August 6, 1984)
Romero: “There is a beautiful passage in the document of Puebla in which, following the outline that Pope John Paul II used … the three great theologies of Latin American are brought together: the theology about Christ, the theology about the Church and the theology about the human person ... I recommend this especially to those of you are who concerned about the social and political order. Do not just read these pages but study them ....” (March 2, 1980 Sermon.)
— The Neocatechumenal Way—
Benedict told the leaders of the Neocatechumenal movement that, “The Church has recognized in the Neocatechumenal Way a particular gift aroused by the Holy Spirit;” that they should “contribute, with new impetus and ardor, to the radical and joyful rediscovery of the gift of baptism and to offer your original contribution to the cause of the New Evangelization;” but that they should “seek always a profound communion with the pastors and with all the components of the particular Churches and the very different ecclesial contexts in which you are called to operate.” (Jan. 17, 2012 address.)
Romero told the Neocatechumenal communities of El Salvador that through them, “the movement of the Holy Spirit is flourishing;” he thanked them for nourishing the sacrament of Baptism, as the “incorporation of [believers] into the life of Christ, into the death and resurrection of Christ” and said the movement was “an institution that is intimately linked to our evangelization;” adding, “with all my heart I ask you as Pastor, there wherever you go, in whatever parishes you are living, please be concerned about making the catechumenate a part of the Christian life of the people of that area.” (November 22, 1979 Sermon.)
—The Meaning of Lent—
In his Ash Wednesday, March 9, 2011 General Audience discourse, Pope Benedict emphasized the Gospel’s emphasis on Jesus’ journey: “It means accompanying Jesus as he travels to Jerusalem, the place where the mystery of his passion, death and resurrection is to be fulfilled,” said the Pontiff. Lent, he added, is a time for “penance [and] to intensify our commitment to conversion.”
In his March 9, 1980 sermon, Archbishop Romero said the Gospel recounts Christ’s journey to Jerusalem on “the path of suffering, the path of Calvary, the path of humiliation and the Cross,” but which culminates in “the path of triumph and victory and resurrection.” Romero points out the importance of penance: “Repentance,” he preached, “is actually the synthesis of the whole Gospel ... Repentance is the foundation of the Kingdom of God.”
Benedict preaches that the Transfiguration of Jesus gives us “the joy of being children of the Father who is in Heaven,” but people “prefer the sands of ideology, power, success and money, believing they will find in these things stability and the answer to the irrepressible demand for happiness and fullness that they carry in their soul.” He warned against “a superficial activism that may satisfy pride momentarily but ultimately leaves you empty and dissatisfied.” (March 6, 2011 «Angelus»)
Archbishop Romero preached that, in the Transfiguration, humans are “raised up to the dignity of the children of God,” but he cautioned, “let us not lose sight of the transcendence of the Christian message no matter how great our concerns or our responsibilities in the struggles of people ... I would like to see many politicians and young people and women and men organizing themselves but I would like to see this being done with a profound Christian meaning.” (March 2, 1980 Sermon.)
—The Temptations of Christ—
“How many preachers explain [the stories of Jesus’s temptations in the desert] as dramatic variations on the perennial human temptation to utopianism, to a self-sufficiency that 'pushes God off the stage'?” (George WEIGEL, NEWSWEEK, May 21, 2007 issue, "A Jesus Beyond Politics, Pope Benedict becomes the teacher he always wanted to be.")
Romero does the same, saying the temptations are “like so many politicians who only wish to have everything taken care of and who demand even what is impossible. These infantile demands are very much like the temptation of the Devil: to want to turn stones to bread and thus get out of hunger.” (February 24, 1980 Sermon)
“Amidst some familiar Ratzingerian themes, there is a new chord struck with particular force, it is Benedict XVI’s insistence, repeated several times, that a Christian Church faithful to its Lord cannot be a Church of power ... For the fusion of faith and political power always comes at a price: faith becomes the servant of power and must bend to its criteria.” (WEIGEL, supra.)
“That is why, brothers and sisters, it is no prestige for the Church to be in good stead with the powerful. This is the prestige of the Church: to feel that the poor feel it as theirs, knowing that the Church lives a dimension on the earth calling everyone, including the rich, to convert and be saved, from the world of the poor, because they are the only ones who are Blessed.” (February 17, 1980 sermon)
“Benedict XVI unpacks the New Testament with the help of his profound knowledge of the Hebrew Bible.” (WEIGEL, supra.)
So does Romero: “Take note of the moment in which Christ teaches [the Beatitudes] so that we can see its reach. Let us not tear it out of the context of the history of Israel,” he said before recapping the biblical history of Israel. (February 17, 1980 Sermon)
“Why is it the meek to whom the Beatitudes promise the inheritance of 'the land'? Because, explains Ratzinger, drawing on the imagery of the Exodus, 'the land was given [to the people of Israel] as a space for obedience, a realm of openness to God that was to be freed from the abomination of idolatry'.” (WEIGEL, supra.)
“That is why Jesus preached with such enthusiasm, 'Happy are you the poor, because yours is the Kingdom of God! You are the best prepared to understand what is not understood by those who kneel before the false idols and trust in them. You who do not have those idols, you who do not trust because you do not have money or power, you who are disenfranchised of everything, the poorer you are, the more you are the owners of the Kingdom of God!” (February 17, 1980 Sermon)
Benedict: “The encounter with Jesus in Holy Mass is truly and fully brought about when the community can recognize that in the Sacrament he dwells in his house, waits for us, invites us to his table, then, after the assembly is dismissed, stays with us, with his discreet and silent presence, and accompanies us with his intercession, continuing to gather our spiritual sacrifices and offer them to the Father … At the moment of Adoration, we are all equal, kneeling before the Sacrament of Love … Communion and contemplation cannot be separated, they go hand in hand..” (June 7, 2012 Corpus Christi Sermon)
Romero: “This is the meaning of Eucharist, the living presence and the life giving presence of Christ in person here in history. The primary and most important person who is present during the Mass is Christ on the altar. Therefore each time that we come to Mass it is he, Jesus Christ, whom we come to hear and follow and love ... the people, either standing as a sign of respect or on knee as a sign of adoration, affirm that before their eyes, under the appearance of bread and wine is the body and the blood of Christ, truly, really and substantially present. It is a living presence and a life giving presence.” (June 17, 1979 Corpus Christi Sermon)
Benedict has emphasized “the importance of silence in our relationship with God.” During Lent 2012, he preached that, “Silence is capable of excavating an interior space in our inmost depths so that God may abide there, so that his Word may remain in us, so that love for him may be rooted in our minds and in our hearts and animate our lives.” (March 7, 2012 general audience)
Romero in Lent 1980: “When dealing with this parable rather than preach I would prefer that we would sit in silence and remind ourselves that this passage is a summary of our own personal, individual lives.” He encouraged, “My sisters and brothers, I invite all of you to read this passage in your homes or in a church or in some silent place and reflect on your own life.” (March 16, 1980 Sermon.)
Benedict: “I do not abandon the cross, but remain in a new way near to the Crucified Lord. I no longer wield the power of the office for the government of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, within St. Peter’s bounds ... I continue to accompany the Church on her way through prayer and reflection, with the dedication to the Lord and to His Bride, which I have hitherto tried to live daily and that I would live forever.” (Final General Audience, February 27, 2013.)
Romero: “We can all do something, at least have a sense of understanding and sympathy. The holy woman we remember today could not do many things directly perhaps, but … she prayed ... We know that no one can go on forever, but those who have put into their work a sense of very great faith, of love of God, of hope among human beings, find it all results in the splendors of a crown that is the sure reward of those who labor thus, cultivating truth, justice, love, and goodness on earth.” (Final Homily, March 24, 1980.)
Pope Benedict XVI did not beatify Archbishop Romero during his pontificate. But the Church Benedict constructed is certainly a Church Romero would have served as a bishop, and one within which he will fit as a saint ... one day.