Will the election of a new Pope help or hurt Archbishop Romero’s canonization? Arguably, the death of Blessed John Paul II in April 2005, when Archbishop Romero’s cause seemed to be on the verge of a breakthrough, followed by what some perceived as Pope Benedict’s decision to put the brakes on the Vatican’s “sainthood factory,” may have stopped the momentum of Romero’s cause. Eight years later, a conclave that begins on the anniversary of the death of Fr. Rutilio Grande, to produce a new Pontiff whose first Mass may be on the 33rd anniversary of Archbishop Romero’s martyrdom, could potentially set up another game-changer. The papal transition will impact the Romero canonization cause in three ways.First, in the immediate term, the resignation of Pope Benedict triggered an administrative suspension of all the work of the Vatican bureaucracies, including the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—the two Roman institutions currently working on Archbishop Romero’s cause. During the sede vacante—the period during which there is no pope—all major work by the Vatican’s agencies that would require papal approval grind to a halt. In fact, the heads of the CCS and CDF are technically separated from their posts during the interregnum. In the case of the head of the CCS, Card. Angelo Amato will turn 75 in June. This is the mandatory retirement age for Catholic bishops, and it is unclear whether His Eminence would return to his job to finish out his term, or whether the new Pontiff will simply wait to appoint a new Prefect. Some perceive that officials will not simply be sent back to their posts, as a matter of course, because of the need to examine and, if need be, reform, the functioning of the Vatican Curiae.
Second, in the intermediate term and in general, the election of a new pope can operate to reboot Vatican operations, resulting in different energies flowing into particular projects, including a specific canonization cause. As noted above, we saw how the papal transition from John Paul to Benedict—and the associated shift in priorities from John Paul’s emphasis on creating saints to Benedict’s emphasis on revitalizing Europe’s Christian traditions—seemed to sap the energy from Romero’s cause. The coming transition, with its attendant shifts in policy focus, and even personnel, will invariably impact Romero’s cause. For example, we wait to find out whether Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the postulator of Romero’s cause, will retain his time-consuming role as President of the Pontifical Council on the Family (the equivalent of a cabinet job in a secular government) and whether he will be made a cardinal, which he appeared on track to be under Pope Benedict. His fate will impact the cause.Third, and most importantly, the papal election process will make a difference in terms of who is elected pope. For example, Prof. Mike Allison of the Univ. of Scranton, points out that the selection of a Latin American might speed up the Romero canonization. Super Martyrio has analyzed the backgrounds and profiles of 32 cardinals widely considered to be papabili, at least by the press, and has concluded that, of these, twelve could be favorably inclined to accelerate Romero’s beatification, while seven others might be inclined to keep the status quo (the remainder were toss-ups). The most favorably inclined for Romero in our analysis were Ghana’s Peter Turkson—whom Irish bookmakers favor 11-4 to win (but is much less favorably regarded by Vatican insiders); Honduras’ Oscar Rodriguez; and Italy’s Gianfranco Ravasi. At least nine other prelates currently thought to be contenders ended up in our plus column, which means that there is a fair chance that the new pope will be even more favorably inclined towards Romero’s canonization than Pope Benedict had been.
Therefore, there is reason to think Archbishop Romero’s cause will fare better under the new pope. First, the disruption of the sede vacante, though routine and largely benign, could produce new leadership at the CCS (the other relevant agency, the CDF, already is headed by the Romero-friendly Prefect Gerard Muller). Second, the transition will refocus priorities and, given that Romero’s cause had gone into sleep mode in the last few years, any shake-up can only be positive. Finally, the chances of getting a pope who will want to expedite Romero’s beatification process also seem promising. To be clear, we do not expect the new Pope to walk into the CCS the day after he is elected and proclaim Óscar Romero a saint. Any positive impact would be very subtle. But, as Fr. Daniel Ols, the relator of Romero’s cause told NCR’s John Allen in 2003, “If the Holy Father wants things to accelerate, they speed up.”