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News on Archbishop Romero

January 9, 2015

Breaking news from the Catholic News Service:

A panel of theologians advising the Vatican’s Congregation for Saints’ Causes voted unanimously to recognize the late Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero as a martyr, according to the newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference.

The panel declared Jan. 8 that the archbishop had been killed “in hatred for the faith,” Avvenire reported Jan. 9.  The decision is a key step in the archbishop’s cause, following an extended debate over whether he was killed for political reasons or for his faith.

The next step in the process lies with the cardinals and bishops who sit on the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, who will vote on whether to advise the pope to issue a decree of beatification. A miracle is not needed for beatification of a martyr, though a miracle is ordinarily needed for his or her canonization as saint.


With regards to the highlighted text:  I have always wondered about this problem. If St. Thomas a Beckett was a martyr for the faith, then so too is Oscar Romero.   In both cases the murders were politically motivated precisely because these bishops dared to assert that the faith had real world consequences.  Romero’s “crime” seems to be that he sided with the Left in defense of the poor, and thereby tainted himself as a communist sympathizer.   I also wonder:  will the same voices that opposed his beatification during the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI—see for example, this book review from New Oxford Review— reiterate these arguments now, or will they let the matter slide?

Like holy men and women of God, Oscar Romero was a complicated person, but I am very glad, and the Church is blessed, to have him recognized as a martyr for Christ and his Church.

  1. January 9, 2015 1:36 pm

    This is excellent news.

    It does seem a little doubtful to try to pry apart political motivations and religious motivations, particularly when we’re dealing with a case of a bishop who was shot in the middle of Mass — that suggests that any political opposition was partly structured by an extraordinary contempt for the Faith, at the very least. And you’re right that Becket is a good parallel here. There are issues that no doubt have to be discussed by a theological panel considering these things, but, at least as stated in the report, it doesn’t seem to be framed quite right.

    • Cojuanco permalink
      January 10, 2015 4:16 am

      Let us remember, too, that the popular slogan of the people who shot Romero was “be a patriot and kill a priest.” Saying that to be loyal to one’s fatherland requires one partake publically in the sins of sacrilege and murder, after all, is at least probative of hatred for the Church that emphatically declares such acts to be monstrous sins.

      • January 13, 2015 9:36 am

        Excellent point; you’re right that besides the particular circumstances of his death, there’s also the broader conditions of hostility to the Church and its priesthood, and those should be taken into account, as well.

  2. January 9, 2015 3:04 pm

    One should take comfort that matters such as this are well scrutinized and examined with all sides being heard. There’s an endless churning of selective information by interests with ‘axes to grind’ making a full and clear view difficult to accomplish. For me, its significant that a panel of appointed theologians came to a unanimous decision and that the process is allowed to move forward. If some groups object, claiming that the Church is blind, corrupt or misguided…then what merit is there in having such a process in the first place? Instead of being drawn to new insights and deeper conversion, we could all simply print our own partisan holy cards of those who reflect our ideologies and values.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink
      January 9, 2015 7:18 pm

      Your point is well taken, though I do not think I am reading too much into the fact that two papacies passed with no action, and 20 months into that of the first Latin American Pope a decision is made.

      • Alexandra permalink
        January 11, 2015 12:54 am

        I agree with you, here, David.

    • Cojuanco permalink
      January 10, 2015 4:21 am

      I suspect too many American Catholics would simply want to print their own partisan holy cards, useful in the devotion of our politicians to the gods Mammon or Returning Officer. Witness, for example, how the secular Left treats the Holy Father on abortion, and how the secular Right treats him for even thinking about speaking about the environment.

  3. Katherine permalink
    January 9, 2015 4:00 pm

    The aptness of comparison between Archbishop Romero and St Thomas Becket struck me long ago. (But then I’m a medieval historian.) Most people don’t realize just how controversial Becket’s stance was, in his time — some of his fellow bishops were disconcerted and angry at his actions and policies, the pope himself found his intransigence awkward. He too was a complicated person, not easy to live or deal with. And a number of historians, over the centuries and still, see Becket as a villain for his opposition to Henry II’s centralizing reforms. It was no accident that Henry VIII had his tomb destroyed and his name literally erased from books, labeling him a traitor. (Incidentally, it should be just ‘Thomas Becket’ — ‘a Beckett’ is a Victorian affectation that is proving very hard to stamp out.)

    I wonder if part of the issue now is that we are so trained to be suspicious of clerical involvement with the political, and even Vatican authorities feel the compulsion to disavow any intent of the church in that direction. How many bishops are, not killed, but certainly pilloried, even by their own people, for insisting on certain real-world consequences of the faith that are politically unpopular?

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink
      January 9, 2015 7:20 pm

      Thomas Beckett it is, though I am partial to literary affectations! Is the same true of “Thomas a Kempis”?

      • Katherine permalink
        January 10, 2015 2:32 pm

        No. “a Kempis” means Thomas of Kempen (his home town); his surname apparently was something like Hemerken/Hammerlein. “Becket” is a surname; Thomas Becket was a Londoner, born and bred.

        • Julia Smucker permalink*
          January 10, 2015 4:47 pm

          Can we call him St. Thomas a Londis?

  4. dismasdolben permalink
    January 10, 2015 10:46 am

    This would only have been possible under a Pope Francis Bergoglio.

  5. Julia Smucker permalink*
    January 10, 2015 1:01 pm

    Good news indeed!

    Interesting that you should bring up Beckett in comparison to Romero, since those are the subjects of the two music videos made by the Martyrs Project (an album setting Christian martyrs’ words to music – – scroll down for the videos). These are actually the only songs I’ve heard from the album, and they never fail to move me.

    Whenever these martyrdom questions come up, I always think of John Allen’s argument in the introduction to his book The Global War on Christians (the introduction being basically a surprisingly persuasive apologetic for the choice of title) that, in his words, “it’s not enough to consider what was in the mind of the person pulling the trigger—we also have to ponder what was in the heart of the believer getting shot.”

    But I think in Romero’s case there is also a good case to be made for the classical criterion of odium fidei, as Brandon and Cojuanco have suggested here. Whatever political motives there may be on the killers’ part may not be easily separable from their hatred of a person’s lived faith following the example of our Lord – whose own death sentence, for that matter, can easily be ascribed to political motives on the part of all the complicit parties.

    I also keep thinking of a powerful theme I noticed in the movie Romero, which I think I’ve mentioned in previous threads but it bears repeating now: the most striking contrast between Romero and the militants who end up killing him is their (respective) respect and disrespect for both human life and the Eucharist in direct proportion. The movie actually has him get shot as he is lifting the chalice, which to my knowledge is not historically accurate, but the powerful symbolism of that point (with his blood literally mingling with Christ’s at the very altar of his sacrifice!) makes the artistic license more than forgivable. But my favorite scene in the whole movie is much earlier on, when the military has taken over the cathedral and Romero goes in with a couple of parishioners to collect the blessed sacrament. When he informs the soldiers of this intention, their response is to turn around and shoot up the tabernacle, while the archbishop stares aghast. When he then walks past them, bends down and picks up the hosts, it’s possibly the most courageous act portrayed in the film.

    One final point, to get back to real life: one of the major lessons we should take from Romero’s witness unto death is that defense of the poor is not a left/right issue, but rather a central part of the whole Church’s Christian witness, regardless of whose hatred it provokes.

    • Katherine permalink
      January 10, 2015 2:27 pm

      I’m glad to know about the Martyrs’ Project. The Becket film perplexed me, though. The images it used gave no indication that the people who designed the film actually knew any details of Becket’s story. The site of his death, and his tomb, remain, and his story has been depicted in art for centuries, so it’s not like material was wanting. The contrast with the footage in the Romero film was a disappointing.

      • Julia Smucker permalink*
        January 10, 2015 4:43 pm

        I think I agree. I’m pretty vague on Becket’s story myself but am curious. Could you give me a summary? (I know, I could just consult the great Google or Wikipedia or something of that sort, but I prefer the old-fashioned method of asking a person a question.)

        Anyway, I do find the Romero video more powerful because of that footage. There’s also a lot more to the Romero quote that serves as song lyrics compared to the Becket one.

        • Katherine permalink
          January 10, 2015 5:34 pm

          It’s rather a long, complicated story … Wikipedia is actually not bad on it.

          This is the best I can do as a quick summary off the top of my head:
          The cleric Thomas of London (as he was often called/referred to) served both in the household of the archbishop of Canterbury and as royal chancellor; Henry II engineered his promotion as the next archbishop, assuming their friendship would result in a cooperative relationship. But Thomas found Henry’s plans too intrusive against the liberties of the church; their friendship turned to fury on Henry’s side, and Thomas’s attempts to be faithful to his office sometimes seemed intransigent, even to other churchmen. (Some of the other English bishops refused to support him; the pope did, but found the situation awkward.) He ended up in exile in France for a number of years, returning to England after a tense reconciliation with the king. But his disciplinary actions against some of the other bishops, when the king heard about them, sent Henry into a rage. He said something to the effect of, “will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?”; four of his knights took him seriously, went to Canterbury, and killed the archbishop in his own cathedral, on 29 December 1170. Henry swore he had never meant Becket harm, but he ended up doing public penance for his role.

          Becket was canonized three years after his death; healing miracles had started almost before his blood had been wiped from the floor of the desecrated church (and the monks of Christchurch took notes about them). Devotion to him spread like wildfire across Europe (evidenced in artwork, music, etc.), and Canterbury became one of the great pilgrimage sites, long before Chaucer wrote about his imaginary pilgrims. Becket’s story was often invoked in situations when subjects found themselves in conflict with royal power and authority; one of his successors, Stephen Langton, was one of the architects of the Magna Carta. But to Henry VIII, the example of a bishop who stood up to his king was intolerable; he had Becket’s tomb and relics destroyed, his name literally erased or stricken through in books.

          As for the text of the martyrs project piece, it is very limited — it quotes, from accounts of his martyrdom, his words as he faced down the assassins. But the Office of Readings for his feast has part of a letter in which he talks about the duties of a bishop.

          It’s one of the great medieval stories; you can do much better than my little summary. But I hope this helps.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink
      January 11, 2015 11:23 am

      Julia writes:

      “defense of the poor is not a left/right issue, but rather a central part of the whole Church’s Christian witness, regardless of whose hatred it provokes.”

      Even if it is the hatred of other Christians. Maureen Mullarkey wrote the following about Pope Francis in a recent blog post: he “discards the West’s great discovery—realization that wealth can be created. The endgame is transfer of wealth from productive nations to unproductive ones.”

      • Julia Smucker permalink*
        January 15, 2015 10:24 pm

        I’m having a deeply conflicted reaction to this, as I find it disturbing on two different levels.

        First: antagonism toward gospel principles on the part of those who claim the name of Christ, and thus ought to know better, offends and appalls me more than anything.

        But then, I have to wonder why you choose to invoke this example, David. I know my own tendency to be hypercritical and hope my attempts to call out the distorting polemics are not in the end making them worse. But it sounds here like you’re trying to defend the idea that the defense of the poor belongs to the left by highlighting a counter-example from the right. But shouldn’t we be reclaiming such things for the gospel instead? Does not this gospel liberate all that is true and just from that damn (seriously) flattening political spectrum?

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink
          January 16, 2015 10:03 am

          Julia, truthfully, I no longer remember at all why I chose this particular post. If I have to recreate it post facto, I would guess that in the context of Romero, I was thinking of all the conservative Catholics in the US who criticized him, claiming his defense of the poor was not Catholic but Marxist. Seeing Pope Francis criticized the same way just leapt out and seemed to call for comment.

          I think we will always disagree on the perceived degree of partisanship in my critiques, but you are a useful anodyne in that you call me out when you think I cross a line and get me to question the “other” side a bit more.

        • January 16, 2015 4:35 pm


          Ah, an interesting insight and your ‘two levels of concern’ are not unrelated, in my opinion. My last few weeks have been a meditation on the encyclical Lumen Fidei and I think it sheds light on these concerns (cf. LF 12-13).

          Your first concern, which I’ll term ‘antagonism towards the gospel’, is in reality a demonstration of lack of Faith. It’s a failure to put ourselves and events in God’s hands, or see matters in ‘the light of Christ’. Your second concern, (if we can set aside David’s selective use of evidence) I would paraphrase as ‘a recourse to left/right political ideologies’. This is for the most part a form of idolatry. These left/right ideologies are idols in that they are manmade substitutes for what the gospel truly demands and instead become excuses for hatred, calumny and discord.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink
          January 16, 2015 4:47 pm

          “David’s selective use of evidence”

          I fear I am being pilloried for an offhand comment. No excuse, I know: I am responsible for what I write. But see my response to Julia.

        • January 16, 2015 7:15 pm

          I fear I am being pilloried…

          In Julia’s comment you were a concern…in my comment you were not.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink
          January 16, 2015 8:32 pm

          Oops: it was not clear when I read it…..

  6. January 11, 2015 2:13 pm

    Oy vey…I searched for the post you referred to. My first and hopefully last taste of Mullarkey malarkey.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink
      January 11, 2015 7:01 pm

      Yeah, this post deserves to be criticized but it would be like shooting fish in a barrel.

  7. January 13, 2015 4:37 pm

    In my mind, it is difficult not to see Romero as anything but a martyred saint. And so what if his death is political. He’s more the St Thomas More than Becket, imo. And St Thomas More’s death was highly political (yes, and a martyr for the faith at the same time).

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink
      January 13, 2015 7:17 pm

      Henry, why do you think he is more More than Beckett?

      • January 14, 2015 2:35 pm

        Because St. Thomas Becket’s death is more accidental, while More’s was the policy of the state (Cromwell). There is an issue of More being seen as a real political thorn, due to his previous connection within the government and not just a friend of the king. While More and Fisher were not killed at the altar (which is what connects Romero to Beckett), as a whole, there was greater intent and political change that happened as a result of More’s and Fisher’s death, and in the whole, the government did not repent of it. I would also say St Thomas More was much more engaged with the people than Beckett: Beckett was an issue of church vs state, while St Thomas More was confronting the change of state model itself.

        • Katherine permalink
          January 19, 2015 2:14 pm

          Becket’s death was ‘accidental’ insofar as Henry II swore he had not intended what his knights did on his behalf (as they saw it). He was not killed at the altar during a liturgy, incidentally, although in the cathedral.
          More was formally tried and officially executed. I see a closer parallel between Becket and Romero here.

          Becket, like More, had been royal chancellor (Becket held the post longer); giving up that office as incompatible with his responsibilities as archbishop was among the first signs of tension between him and Henry II. While Henry II’s policies did not lead to the radical and unrepented changes Henry VIII imposed, they did threaten a serious redefinition of the relationship between the church and the government, one the church was not prepared to accept. Becket was a political thorn in life, and once dead and sainted, was a lasting potential thorn for English monarchs, and a focus of popular reverence, in a way Thomas More was not.

  8. Katherine permalink
    February 2, 2015 9:45 am

    Abp. Romero’s former secretary comments on his beatification and the process involved (and mentions Becket):

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