Reflections on the Teaching of Vatican II Through the Magisterium of John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
Romero’s martyrdom has been officially recognised
By unanimous vote the Congregation for the Causes of Saints recognised Archbishop Oscar Romero’s martyrdom in odium fidei. He was killed whilst celebrating mass. All so-called doctrinal objections to his beatification have been withdrawn
Romero is a martyr. He was killed in odium fidei, in hatred of the faith. John Paul II repeated this in a faint voice back in November 2003, while speaking to some Salvadoran bishops who came to Rome for their ad limina visit. The archbishop’s martyrdom was confirmed yesterday in a unanimous vote cast by members of the commission of theologians at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. They recognise the formal and material martyrdom of the archbishop who was shot at the altar whilst celebrating mass on 24 March 1980. The news was revealed by Stefania Fallasca in an article published by Italian Catholic newspaperAvvenire. She added that “according to canonical practice , all that remains is for commission of bishops and cardinals to give their judgement and for the Pope to then approve the cause, concluding the procedure that will soon lead to [the archbishop’s] beatification.”
Fallasca goes through each part of the beatification process, underlining that the pronouncement on Romero’s martyrdom “is definitely the high point of a very difficult cause”. The process was hindered by objections and attempts to slow down or halt the bishop martyr’s journey toward beatification, often using theological and doctrinal arguments as excuses. Hence the recognition given by the theologians collaborating with the Vatican dicastery for the causes of saints appears crucial and seems to settle the question.
The fact that Romero’s martyrdom has now been recognised definitively confirms that the Salvadoran archbishop was killed in odium fidei. What pushed the butchers to kill Romero, was not simply a craving to wipe out a political enemy, but the hatred unleashed by Romero’s love for justice and focus on the poor which was a direct manifestation of his faith in Christ and his faithfulness to Church teaching. In the bloody chaos that tore El Salvador apart in those terrible years, Romero was the good pastor who was willing to give up his life to care for the poor as the Gospel preaches. The theologians of the Vatican dicastery recognised that it was faith that motivated Romero’s work, the words his pronounced and the gestures he made in the daily reality in which he was called to serve and live as an archbishop.
The decision of the Congregation’s theologians makes a clean sweep of decades of operations that had aimed to make propaganda out of a purely political interpretation of Romero’s killing. The recognition that he was killed in odium fidei confirms that in the days when El Salvador was overcome by death squads and the civil war, the Church was undergoing ferocious persecution at the hands of people who sociologically at least were Christian. The hatred that was unleashed against him, eventually killing him, was cultivated and shared by members of the oligarchy who frequented mass or made offerings and donations to ecclesiastical institutions. Including associations of so-called “Catholic women” who fabricated accusations and malicious comments against him and published them in newspapers.
The nihil obstat given by the theologians uncovered the truth behind the stories that had been fabricated against Romero, passing him off as a supporter of the guerrillas, a political agitator who was influenced and subjugated by Marxism. The process for Romero’s beatification cause – of which Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia is postulator – gives authoritative and definitive proof of what the martyr bishop’s friends had been saying all along: Romero – as Professor Morozzo della Rocca wrote – was “a priest and Roman bishop who was obedient to the Church and the Gospel through the Tradition,” called to carry out his pastoral ministry “in that extreme and twisted West that was Latin America in those years.” Where military forces and death squads ferociously oppressed an entire people, serving the oligarchy. Where priests and catechists were killed so that in the rural areas it became dangerous to own a Gospel. Where if all you did was ask for justice you would be labelled as a subversive communist. Where the Church was persecuted because it refused to become the spiritual arm of the oligarchy.
And yet, for years, Romero’s cause remained suspended. The reason given was that all the Salvadoran bishop’s homilies and writings had to be examined by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to verify their orthodoxy. In those years it was mainly Colombian cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo who had a prevalent role in managing Romero’s cause – and ensuring it did not progress any further. He was an influential advisor of the former Holy Office at the time and passed away in 2008.
In this context, the comments the Congregation for the Causes of Saints was receiving, aimed to delay the process further. Some said that elevating Romero to the honour of the altars would be like beatifying Liberation Theology or even popular movements inspired by Marxism and the revolutionary guerrillas of the 1970’s. This was why, according to some, Romero’s cause could not be backed by claiming he died in martyrdom in odium fidei. But this was used as a reason to justify the beatification of Jerzy Popieluszko in 2010. The 37-year-old priest was murdered in 1984 by a commando of the security services of communist Poland.
Now it seems it’s Oscar Arnulfo Romero’s turn. All one can do is wait. But the wait will not be long because canonical approval of a miracle performed through the candidate's intercession is not a prerequisite for a martyr to be beatified.