Friday, May 12, 2006

Romero sainthood blog

There is a new blog set up to provide "the inside track on the beatification cause of archbishop Romero of El Salvador" called POSITIO SUPER MARTYRIO. One of its initial posts is a lengthy look at whether Romero was a Christian martyr "killed in hatred of the faith." The beatification blog is brought to us by the same people who maintain the San Romero mailing list, and who are kind enough to republish many of the posts you read here on Tim's El Salvador Blog.


Anonymous said...

The article Tim links to absurdly argues that Romero’s killers were motivated by “hatred of the faith.” What the killers hated was Communism. As the pope recognized in his confrontation with Romero, he had been duped into aiding and sympathizing with communist rebels. Romero’s interpretation of the faith was a perversion of Catholicism. The Pope is infallible and Romero was a false Catholic.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous illustrates the point Pope Benedict recently made to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, instructing them on how to discern modern martyrs: “The strategies on the part of [persecutors] now seldom explicitly show their aversion to the Christian faith or to a form of conduct connected with the Christian virtues, but simulate different reasons, for example, of a political or social nature.”

I do agree with the poster that the Pope is infallible, and Pope John Paul the Great himself repeatedly called Romero "a martyr."

-- Moderador San Romero

Miguel Lerdo said...

The two posts above indicate that the Pope contradicted himself. So much for infallibility. Personally, I hope Romero is made a saint – I think he would have liked that. However, given how the Pope treated him, the church doesn’t really deserve him. Romero will continue to be my hero regardless.

Anonymous said...

IMHO, there is a mystique to the story that the Pope "mistreated" Romero that holds some sway in people's opinion, but the story does not hold that much truth. It is true that the Pope admonished Romero, but Romero understood those admonitions as they were intentioned, as prudential warnings from above. The Pope was getting very one-sided reporting on Romero through diplomatic channels, but once he got the full picture (mostly, after Romero's death), the Pope understood quite well what the rest of the world now understands. (Papal infallibility doesn't really come into play, because that papal infallibility only applies to certain doctrinal statements, not to every utterance, including private statements, by the Pope.)

Of course the Church deserves Romero -- as Romero himself taught us, "the Church" means more than the hierarchy or the Pope.


Miguel Lerdo said...

I don’t have any inside information regarding the Pope’s treatment of Romero. My sources are news reports, the post from anonymous above, “Romero” the movie, and some biographies on CNN or the history channel. If this is slander, I would assume the Pope publicly refuted the charges (preferably before Romero was killed). I would be happy to be proved wrong on this point.

The blog entry we are referring to is a masterful argument. However, I am afraid it still fails to counter the argument against sainthood it sets out to refute.

“how can we establish that Archbishop Romero, who was murdered in the prelude to a Civil War between a right-wing military dictatorship and a leftist insurgency, in a 90 percent plus Catholic country, was killed for “hatred of the faith”? To add to the complication, how can Romero be killed for “hatred of the faith,” if the group he was perceived to be aligned with (the rebels) are presumably atheist Marxists, and the group believed to have ordered the murder (the government) are a traditional Latin American oligarchy – descendants of the elites who brought Catholicism to the continent? What if, in a perverse sort of way, Romero’s killers were acting in defense of the faith! -- against what they perceived to be a heretical usurpation of the faith by an infidel bishop?”

Against this we have a vague statement from the Vatican, “laws and decrees passed in contravention of the moral order, and hence of the divine will, can have no binding force in conscience, since it is right to obey God rather than men.”

Is it possible to commit the heinous crime of killing Romero and yet not hate the Catholic faith? That is the question.

Let’s imagine a member of a death squad who believes himself to be a devout Catholic. He’s thinking to himself, “do I kill this guy Romero – he is a man of the cloth after all and I do so love my faith – this isn’t quite the same as killing commies and Indians?” On the one hand there is an obscure statement that doesn’t define “moral order” in the context of civil war where the line between rebel soldier and civilian is ambiguous. On the other hand we have the 500 year history of the Spanish and Latin American churches allying themselves with oppressors of commies, Jews and heathen Indians. This homicidal Catholic could love the faith he grew up with and just hate Romero’s wimpy interpretation.

The church has been willing to tolerate, execute and give orders that most people would consider immoral. “Let’s torture that Converso until he admits he is a Jew and then take his property.” “Go ahead soldiers of Spain, attack the Incan Empire - their King didn’t accept my bible.” “Hey, General Franco. Some anarchists vandalized a church so go and do what you must to the democratically elected government of Spain. Oh, you have to use Nazi planes to bomb the Catholic Basques of Guernica into submission? Well ok, if you must.”

Romero’s message was one of peace and tolerance. This is not intrinsically Catholic. Some Catholics hold these values and some don’t. Some “haters of the faith” hold these values and some don’t. The fact that a person kills Romero tells us he hated peace and tolerance, it tells us nothing about his faith.


I enjoyed reading Miguel Lerdo's argument.

I am glad that Tim's blurb captured the spectrum of views regarding Romero in El Salvador, specifically: (1) the right's position that he was killed for political reasons and did not represent Catholicism for them; (2) the left's view that Romero was one of them and not part of the Church that they see as part of the repressive apparatus; and (3) the canonist view that I espouse.

The debate continues at San Romero and the canonist PSM blog, where this week we counter the slander that Romero was "a communist," with a piece spliced together using Romero's own words.

Miguel Lerdo said...

I hope that I have not unwittingly taken up the mantle of defending view #2. Those who have read my posts in the past know that I am not of the left, unless opposing the massacre of peasants makes me a leftist. I recognize that Romero was part of the church and I suspect that his faith helped inspire his courage. I simply take exception to the idea that his message to soldiers - don’t obey orders that involve the killing of innocent people – is inherently Catholic. It is a universal message held by as many non-Catholics as Catholics.

The opposite belief, to put the best possible spin on it, is that communism is so vile that any amount of bloodshed is worth the price. This seems to be the position held by the Franco Nationalists in Spain and the death squads in El Salvador. Representatives of the Church were culpable in Franco’s reign of terror and defending the faith was an official motive for the fascist uprising. I’m not aware of any official apology by the Vatican for its complicity. Is it impossible to imagine that the anti-communist butchers in El Salvador thought the true Catholic Church was on their side?


These are thoughtful observations. However, the error that I would ascribe is that it supposes that hatred must be exclusive: in other words, if someone who hated Christianity also hated OTHER moral systems that imposed certain demands, then, it is argued, he must not really hate Christianity. I will not go so far as to say that it is the same, but it is at least AKIN to arguing that the Nazis weren't anti-Semitic because they also killed many millions of non-Jews.

Claiming Romero is a saint is not tantamount to claiming that the ideals of human rights, social justice, and economic subsidiarity are the exclusive province of the Catholic Church. It is in fact a modest assertion, that when the Church began to finally respond from its soul and its Magisterium, it was violently oppressed by reactionary forces who found that Magisterium to be abhorrent and repugnant to them.

Miguel Lerdo said...

Polycarpio is right that just because the killers hated communism, tolerance, human rights, etc. doesn’t mean that they didn’t also hate Christianity. They very well might have. All I have argued is that there is no evidence that this is so. We know the Nazis were anti-Semitic because they said so. The killers of Romero did not try to exterminate all Christians, nor, as far as I know, have they stated that they hate Christianity. The best evidence I have seen that they do are the existence of unsigned flyers stating “Be a patriot, kill a priest.” Your case would be strengthened if you could establish that the killers of Romero were involved with the creation of these flyers. Given that a large percentage of the population is Christian, these flyers do not appear to the work of the experienced political operatives responsible for Romero’s assassination. I have no idea who made them but lone wacos or leftists trying to discredit the death squads are two possibilities.

There is every reason to believe that the killers consider themselves to be Christians. I’ve observed (with a press credential) ARENA events (the 1994 victory party for former President Calderon Sol for example) where participants were asked to solemnly prey for Roberto D'Aubuisson (who is widely believed to be involved in Romero’s murder). These people may be misguided regarding the true faith, but there is no evidence that they are motivated by a hatred of Christianity.

The problem is that the church only sporadically demands respect for human rights from its followers. Therefore, it is possible for killers of Romero to believe that they are defending the faith from an infidel Bishop and thus be completely sincere in their Christianity.

Since I support your efforts to make Romero a saint, I’ll make a suggestion. I’m sure there were anti-communist priests arguing that the church should stay out of this fight. Try to find an example of one who was nonetheless killed. This would go a long way toward establishing that the death squads hated the faith itself, rather than just hating a peaceful interpretation of the faith.

Finally, I would like to thank you for maintaining a civil conversation in the face of my blasphemous attacks on the Church. I have enjoyed our exchange and I think you will find I am quite willing to give the church credit where due. I don’t think it’s a force for evil, I just don’t think it deserves the free pass it is given by many in society.



Your hesitation illustrates pretty well why Romero is not a saint yet. Using legalistic criteria, and legalistic reasoning, it is difficult to overcome the "odium fidei" requirement of canon law. However, I do not see a barrier because you can prove it directly or indirectly. That is why I do not think you have to show, as you propose, that Romero's killers also killed anti-communist priests who stated that the church should stay out of the conflict. For one thing: we could never prove it, because we do not even know who these killers are. But, doesn't action speak louder than words, and doesn't the fact that they killed Romero tell us everything we need to know about their motives? One of the dilemmas of modern canonization drives is the killer who lies: the killer who claims a mantle of legitimacy. As a canon law scholar told Kenneth Woodard in MAKING SAINTS (Simon & Schuster, 19), "The modern tyrant is very sophisticated. He pretends not to be against religion or even interested in it, so he does not ask their victims what their faith is. But in reality he is either without religion or makes some ideology into ertsatz religion. The Church cannot accept the arguments of criminals and persecutors. We cannot give in the process an advantage to people who are liars just because they say they are not against religion." And so, in the end, it does not matter what Romero's killers say. We can best adduce their love of Christianity or hatred of the faith from their actions.