25 years ago today Paul Hansen Redemptorist priest and myself penned an article (March 23,1990) in the Globe and Mail.We pointed out that the Salvadoran bishop Oscar Romero who broke with the oligarchy and the rest of his brother bishops was also snubbed by the Bishop of Rome,John Paul ll.It was reported that on the day of his as assassination 25 years ago tomorrow, Romero’s dismissal as archbishop was on John Paul ll’s desk.
Romero now on his way to beatification was humiliated by the then pope, a man of blinkered vision when it came to Latin America. Reputedly it was the one thing he regretted. Romero had come to rome to plead his case and was made to wait outside the pontiff’s office. He never did get to see him.
Meanwhile for the people Romero had already been canonized for his prophetic stance against the cowboy capitalism of the USA.
As we stated in our article “For decades Washington had supported local oligarchs Somoza of Nicaragua, Pinochet of Chile, Trujillo of the Dominican Republic all who had turned their backs on los pobres de la tierra.They had become mere satraps of the dominant centre.” The Polish pope never understood why some of the better US bishops were critical of Reagan’s America. Once he queried Cardinal Bernadin asking, “Why do you not support your president”.At that time Rome and Washington were at war with the USSR.But Washington was making war on Latin America.
Earlier in the decade Cardinal Ratzinger had come out against liberation theology, suggesting it was pure Marxism.The great Latino bishops convinced JP ll he was dead wrong and to the pope’s credit in 1985 when he was taken aside by the men closest to “smell of the sheep” he declared that liberation theology was not only useful but necessary.
We asked “Has the pope learned anything from this?” It was dubious given the brutal papal appointments through the southern cone, men who had little credibility but who adopted the harsh Roman line.
We pointed out that Vatican “has closed seminaries which champion close association with communities,imposed traditionalist bishops with whom they could not work,denigrated the prophetic work of Dom Helder Camara and Paiulo Evaristo Arns,towering churchmen and fierce defenders of the marginalized.As one prelate said,’for us the vatican is but a sect within the church”.
We went on to state that “a parallel church was emerging which increasingly distances itself from the hopes and joys of the world which Vatican ll encouraged us to serve.Instead of leaven in the dough the church is becoming a loaf unto itself,preoccupied with internal concerns, obsessed with power and discipline rather than love and service. Brazilian bishop Mauro Morelli described the Vatican as “neurotics for orthodoxy.”
We went on to criticize the pope for “the heavy handed imposition of Romanized clerics as bishops who brook no dissent,his harassment of theologians and prophetic bishops made us ponder the words of the 1971 synod,’anyone who wishes to speak to people about justice must first be just in their eyes.hence, we must undertake an examination of the modes of acting found within the church itself.”
We concluded that “the death of Oscar Romero was a watershed for the modern Catholic Church.It signifies the permanence of justice and peace as the church’s agenda.It speaks to us of the church as servant not master,as a sign of the kingdom yet not the kingdom.It reminds us that convertsion is possible,that the final word, for the Chruistian is love not power.”
As believers in the sensus fidelium, the wisdom of the baptized, we understood that the base church was way ahead of the hierarchs.
Romero had been proscribed by both Ratzinger and John Paul ll only to be rehabilitated by the present pope who saw Romero for what he was, an authentic voice of the humiliated people and a saint for our times.
Many clerics of that time did not dare to raise the life of Romero up.He was not ‘in season” in a time of reactionary papacies. Rather than being adorned with “the smell of the sheep” the Romanized yes men acted like sheep and became idolators of the papacy.
Today we give thanks for a Vatican ll pope who sees the church like Romero as a field hospital after battle. rather than seeing Vatican ll as a grave error that must be corrrected Francis like Romero sees the Church as committed to the poor.This is not Marx, it is Jesus.