Various arguments support the hypothesis that Archbishop Óscar A. Romero of El Salvador died a martyr, killed by persecutors who carried out his murder in hatred of the faith. In an earlier post, I posited that one could show Romero’s martyrdom by crediting Romero as a “martyr of charity” along the lines of St. Lawrence of Rome or St. Maximilian Kolbe; by recognizing that Romero was killed because of his assassins’ aversion to the tenets of the Social Doctrine of the Church; and as a violent rejection of Romero’s powerful final sermon on the primacy of the Law of God. We also can discern hatred of the faith from the National Security Doctrine (NSD) to which Romero’s killers subscribed.
The subject is somewhat dense but the argument can be aptly illustrated by reference to the world of the popular “Matrix” movies. In “The Matrix” universe, the façade of society is in fact a computer-generated reality enforced by humanoid “Agents” who target for elimination freedom fighters and computer viruses alike because both pose threats to “The Matrix.” The Agents are computer programs who actually have no feelings or emotions, but they are written to identify—and swiftly eradicate—those seeking to escape the system and achieve self-determination. Similarly, paramilitary death squads answering to NSD may not have any professed feelings of antithesis towards the Christian faith, but they were indoctrinated to automatically identify proponents of the social doctrine of the church for assassination. Accordingly, enforcers of the NSD consistently and predictably persecuted Christians. National Security Doctrine is, so to speak, an “app” for hatred of the faith.
NSD was developed in South America and pervaded such conflicts as the “Dirty War” in Argentina, and the internal conflicts in places like Chile, Brazil, Guatemala and El Salvador. The Brazilian General Umberto Peregrino ticked off some of the principal components of NSD ideology to include: (1) the belief that the society is mired in a “total war” that permeates and underlies a particular society (even if, like in “The Matrix,” the surface appearance seems peaceful or normal); (2) a conviction that the military must take over the conduct of all national affairs until a solution is reached (like the “Agents” in “The Matrix”); and (3) the requirement that there be an “intransigent subordination of the basic activities of the nation to its security” (ie, individual freedom comes second—if at all) [Bruneau, The Church in Brazil: The Politics of Religion, 59.] In its ultimate manifestation, NSD seeks to supplant religion as the ultimate absolute truth. In the words of Gen. Golbery do Couto e Silva, the father of Brazilian NSD:
To be nationalist is to be always ready to give up any doctrine, any theory, any ideology, feelings, passions, ideals and values, as soon as they appear [to be] incompatible with the supreme loyalty, which is due to the nation above everything else. Nationalism is, must be, and cannot be other than an Absolute One in itself.
[Comblin, The Church and the National Security State, 78.] In his book, José Comblin states that National Security Doctrine offers a society that seems on the surface to be compatible with Christian principles. Civil and military leaders co-opt religious language and symbolism in support of the nationalist project. Additionally, they appeal to the religious sentiments of the population and the church by offering to grant or restore certain privileges to the church, such as the right to teach religion in public schools, to censor publications that defy certain church teachings, and to implement a moral code ostensibly based on Christian moral codes but which actually serves the state’s desire to closely regulate private behavior. But the church recognizes the offer as a manipulative ploy that would subordinate Christian faith to NSD. Comblin, 80-84. Moreover, the church is forced into relatively unified and vigorous opposition, by brutalities and injustice of a scale and severity that leave it no alternative but to oppose NSD.
Accordingly, the Latin American bishops at Puebla denounced the manifestations of NSD throughout the continent: “In many instances the ideologies of National Security have helped to intensify the totalitarian or authoritarian character of governments based on the use of force, leading to the abuse of power and the violation of human rights. In some instances they presume to justify their positions with a subjective profession of Christian faith.” [Puebla (1979) Doc. No. 49.] For his part, Archbishop Romero condemned NSD as a new form of idolatry: “The omnipotence of these national security regimes, the total disrespect they display towards individuals and their rights, the total lack of ethical consideration shown in the means that are used to achieve their ends, turn national security into an idol, which, like the god Molech, demands the daily sacrifice of many victims in its name.” [4th Pastoral Letter, at p. 21.]
The scholarship regarding the existence and nature of NSD is well established; the Church has acknowledged it; and the extent to which NSD factored into the motives for assassinating Archbishop Romero has figured prominently in the analysis of «odium fidei» (hatred of the faith) in his beatification process. The uncontroverted evidence—confirmed by a U.N. Truth Commission report, an OAS investigation, and the findings of a U.S. federal court—is that the Romero assassination was ordered by Maj. Roberto D’Aubuisson. In El Salvador, no one has personified the ideology of NSD more than D’Aubuisson. Like the Agents in “The Matrix,” D’Aubuisson claimed that a secret underworld lay concealed beneath the apparent reality, which could remain undetected even to those implicated in it. “The thing is, you can be a Communist without knowing you are a communist. You don’t have to know you are a Communist,” he was quoted as saying. D’Aubuisson picked up such ideas at international conferences put on by NSD adherents in South America, including Chile and Argentina.
Also like the Agents in “The Matrix,” D’Aubuisson targeted Christians for persecution. Among his most frequent targets, apart from openly avowed Marxists (who were few and far between in El Salvador), were Christian Democrats, Jesuits, and adherents of Liberation Theology—all of whom are affiliated in some way with the Christian faith. Influenced by the Bolivian dictator Gen. Hugo Banzer, D’Aubuisson’s White Warrior Union began a terror campaign in El Salvador that dropped leaflets with the ominous slogan, “Be a Patriot, Kill a Priest.” The terror syndicate issued its infamous “War Order No. 6,” demanding that all Jesuits leave the country or face execution. Romero’s friend Rutilio Grande was the first victim of the campaign.
Like the Agents in “The Matrix,” D’Aubuisson believed that the reality of El Salvador was a deceitful hologram concealing a “total war” that was unknown even to its instigators, but obvious to him. NSD singled out Christians as targets for elimination and provided the justification of a necessary purge. In short, the NSD ideology effectuated hatred of the faith.