Vatican theologians are widely reported to have determined that slain archbishop Oscar Romero meets the Roman Catholic church's definition of a martyr:
Slain Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero has moved one step closer to beatification. Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference, reported Friday that a committee of theologians had confirmed that Romero died as a martyr. The designation means he can be beatified without having a miracle attributed to his intercession. A miracle is needed, however, for him to be made a saint.
Romero was gunned down by a right-wing death squad in 1980 while celebrating Mass. He had spoken out against repression by the Salvadoran army at the beginning of the country’s 1980-1992 civil war between the right-wing government and leftist rebels.
A commission of cardinals and bishops must now sign off on the martyrdom designation and pass it on to Pope Francis for final approval. If approved, the long-awaited beatification could take place this year.
Francis, who has made clear he wants to see Romero beatified, has said he plans to visit three unnamed Latin American countries in 2015, with El Salvador often cited as a contender. A Salvador trip would enable Francis to personally beatify the hero of many Latin American Catholics in his native land.Not surprisingly, the Super Martyrio blog has the most complete coverage of what this news from the Vatican means:
First of all, the import of the theologians’ vote is that it enables the Church to designate Archbishop Romero as a “Blessed.” This is the first step in the two step canonization process—in the second step, Romero can be called a “Saint.” The first step is called beatification; the second step is canonization. Because Romero was proposed for the sainthood as a martyr, the decree certifying the validity of martyrdom is all that it takes for him to be beatified. Someone who is not a martyr (like Mother Teresa or St. John Paul II) require the certification of a miracle in order to be beatified; Romero will not.
All sainthood candidates, including martyrs like Romero, require a miracle for the second step (canonization), unless the requirement is waived by the Pope.
[A]fter the theologians’ vote, there are still some formalities to be completed for beatification but, make no mistake, convincing the theologians is the biggest hurdle. If we had to think of a secular metaphor to explain the process and the significance of the theologians’ vote, we could think of it as similar to the jury process under U.S. law. If the jury finds in your favor, that is a major step. You may still need to have that verdict certified by the court clerk, and have the judge issue a judgment, but the “heavy lifting” is done.
It is also significant that the report mentions that the theologians’ judgment was unanimous. This suggests that there is not necessarily a dramatic disconnect between those inside the Church and the outside world, where Romero has been very broadly accepted. It lends credence to the theory (espoused here) that the hesitation about beatifying Romero had to do with “prudential concerns” (in Pope Francis’ words) rather than with the merits of the case. The theologians’ unanimous vote will also make it very difficult for any remaining skeptics (of which there are a few) to argue that Romero is not deserving of the sainthood.