Viewpoint: Pope Francis, Make This Man a Saint

  • Share
  • Read Later
Luis Galdamez / Reuters

People carry photographs of late Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero during the 31st anniversary of his assassination in San Salvador, El Salvador, March 24, 2011.

When Pope Francis was elected last March, even doctrinally dissident Roman Catholics like me cut the former Argentine cardinal some slack. “I want to believe,” I wrote then, “that his history as an advocate for the poor will bring him to see that today’s church is spending an inordinate amount of time, energy and ultimately moral credibility persecuting homosexuals, feminists and other ‘heretics,’ while it’s de-prioritizing its core Christian (and human) mission of compassion and redemption.”

I think I made the right call. In an interview that his fellow Jesuits published last week, the Pope seemed to answer the prayers of Catholics who are frustrated at seeing their faith increasingly defined by intolerant retro dogma. “We cannot insist,” Francis said, “only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.” He criticized his church’s mania for “small-minded rules” and urged it instead to emulate Jesus’ emphasis on serving the indigent and unfortunate among us.

Francis even clarified a remark he made over the summer regarding homosexuality — “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” — by confirming that he wasn’t speaking only of gay priests but of all gay men and women. That’s not just a welcome change of tone from Francis, who as an archbishop called Argentina’s 2010 legalization of gay marriage a Satanic “anthropological regression.” It’s potentially a theological game-changer.

At a minimum it’s a fresh, humane perspective — and one that should be taken especially seriously in the Pope’s native region of Latin America, where the church hierarchy seems more obsessed with eliminating condoms than alleviating poverty. A good way to start, at least from a potent symbolic standpoint, is to push particularly hard, from Tijuana to Tierra del Fuego, for the canonization of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero.

Romero was assassinated — gunned down inside a chapel in 1980 as he celebrated mass — for practicing then what Francis is advocating now. As civil war flared up in El Salvador in the 1970s, Romero had publicly called on the country’s reactionary oligarchy and its military enforcers to stop brutalizing the poor. In his last Christmas Eve homily, he implored Salvadorans to find the infant Christ among the nation’s hundreds of thousands of “children who go to bed with nothing to eat, among the boys who sleep covered by newspapers in doorways.”

Although Romero was no left-winger, everyone knew that even he was now a target of El Salvador’s right-wing death squads. But at that time, the Vatican was spooked by a Marxist trend among many Latin American clergy known as liberation theology. Rome made Romero even more vulnerable by seeming to lump him in with that wave — Pope John Paul II all but snubbed him — and 34 years after Romero’s martyrdom, church conservatives still campaign to prevent his sainthood.

The church definition of martyrdom, in fact, is their preferred technicality: They insist that Romero was murdered defending not his faith but his politics. But Francis last week defined exactly what Romero was defending – Catholicism, not communism. His Holiness may as well have issued confirmation that Romero was a 20th-century Thomas Becket. At this point, it’s simply a matter of rendering “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?” into Spanish.

Until last April, efforts to beatify and canonize Romero had been blocked inside the Vatican. And It’s even more apparent now that Francis’ elevation as pontiff the month before played a large role in unblocking the process. The next step is for the Pope, who in May received a piece of Romero’s blood-stained vestment from Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, to formally declare Romero a martyr.

The next step for the Latin American church should be a lobbying campaign on Romero’s behalf before the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints. But more important, that church needs to embrace Francis’ latest admonishments, especially if it wants to stop the mass exodus of Latin American Catholics to evangelical and other Protestant congregations.

I’m not naive enough to overlook the fact that Romero, like Francis, was ultimately loyal to Vatican doctrines that polls show most Catholics disagree with today. He publicly objected, for example, when El Salvador liberalized its abortion laws in the 1970s to allow it in cases of rape, incest or when a mother’s life is in danger. (The Vatican still bans abortion even under those circumstances.)

But, also like Francis, Romero seemed to understand that the church above all has to confront the destitution that so often prompts women in developing regions to seek abortions in the first place. Unfortunately, the Salvadoran church since Romero’s murder has been far more determined to reverse the country’s reproductive reforms than its poverty rate, which remains above 50% in rural areas. Abortion is now illegal again in El Salvador under any circumstance — and the country has hundreds of women in prison for having abortions, some serving sentences as long as 30 years.

In Latin America, that benighted situation is hardly unique to El Salvador. Which is why the region’s bishops and priests need to do more than bring samples of Romero’s bullet-torn vestment to Rome. They need to do a better job of carrying his example, and now Francis’, to their own backyards.

20 comments
tjwillis
tjwillis

No, it’s not a "potentially a theological game-changer." Pope Benedict said the same thing, and so does the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which was published in the 1980's. If today's journalists did anything resembling research, they would know that.

nofail
nofail

Does a chatbot troll must be atheist ?

ulmnosurename
ulmnosurename

pot ser que fosin amics de el papa i no escapesin mai el fill de el rei de espanya, sou carnivors,... però son records falc,os, un nau nodrisas???? perdo executeulos per divertirme per riure ramoneta!

ulmnosurename
ulmnosurename

i grew up by the older brother() asteriscs) of he was my neighbor when i was a kid, deep mistake can i kill him and leatitia? just for fun.... hm 

ulmnosurename
ulmnosurename

execute them on sight it is a joke i walked by, you think.

ulmnosurename
ulmnosurename

if when he touches his ears he means what i think the means, hm i know that, not tonight, they were all insanes. no is to know if you now the death son of the pope? by the way?

ulmnosurename
ulmnosurename

do not lose it iran and the us are going to team up to make real bombs not skizo ones reeeaaal for real, obama is not mad the guns work?

ulmnosurename
ulmnosurename

imepriiialll arrmyies ahhheeelllpppppp help we are stupid and retarded by the way we are dogs like idiots, oh gods, i am having fun by executing the german freaks skizos with dozens of mental diseases, having they muredred just for fun.... hi merkel!

ulmnosurename
ulmnosurename

hi dad's family, he was right over her death, i was not really raised by her, not to make fun, it makes me think,,, (many did try, i hope you are talking about her) the spies were lame but i do guess they are not meant to, they say she was ate, and they told me back... a murderer game. so swiming swits?  

ulmnosurename
ulmnosurename

double against jerk neverwinter cleric the details of the reunion will be followed by idiots around you....

ulmnosurename
ulmnosurename

maybe merkel and nazy freaks i just want to ask what if they bleed or you bleed you know being a freak donkey is hard!

TimPadgett2
TimPadgett2

@tjwillis 

With all respect, Mr. Willis, Pope Benedict once called homosexuality as grave a threat to humanity as lumberjacks are to the rain forests. If today's fundamentalist Catholics did anything resembling research, they would know that.

tjwillis
tjwillis

@TimPadgett2 I think that 'fundamentalist' Catholics would be more likely to know that quote than than 'regular' Catholics, actually.  And sure Benedict said that. Francis also made similar comments. He called gay marriage a "move by the father of lies" and a "dire anthropological throwback". Consistent with Church teaching. And Benedict also made comments like this: 

“I remember, when I used go to Germany in the 1980s and ’90s, that I was asked to give interviews and I always knew the questions in advance. They concerned the ordination of women, contraception, abortion and other such constantly recurring problems. If we let ourselves be drawn into these discussions, the Church is then identified with certain commandments or prohibitions; we give the impression that we are moralists with a few somewhat antiquated convictions, and not even a hint of the true greatness of the faith appears. I therefore consider it essential always to highlight the greatness of our faith – a commitment from which we must not allow such situations to divert us. ” – Thursday, 9 November 2006

That is essentially the same thing that Francis said. Not too much game-changing going on. What we are seeing is an implementation of the reforms of *perspective* from Vatican II. At which Card. Ratzinger took part.

TimPadgett2
TimPadgett2

@tjwillis @TimPadgett2 

I never said that he did. I said "potentially" a theological game-changer, Mr. Willis. As in, he uttered the sort of remark that points fundamentalist Catholics (and fundamentalist Protestants, for that matter) toward the realization that their homophobic bigotry is as much on the wrong side of history as racism was during the civil rights movement -- or insistence on the geocentric universe was in Galileo's time. As I've written before on this site, making a distinction between "loving the sinner and hating the sin" regarding homosexuality no longer holds moral credibility.

tjwillis
tjwillis

@TimPadgett2 Sorry, I was a bit unclear. I meant it is essentially the same thing that Francis recently said about not making the faith out to be about *only* abortion, homosex, and contraception - Christianity is not about prohibitions. Regardless, you are confusing style for substance. Francis has thus far not deviated doctrinally from the precedent set by his predecessors.

TimPadgett2
TimPadgett2

@tjwillis @TimPadgett2 

Sorry, but your Benedict quote is hardly "essentially the same thing that Francis said" regarding homosexuality. Apologies, but you're reaching a bit.