Today, I read an article on the BBC website which stated that,
Pope Francis has lifted a ban on the beatification of murdered Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero.
You can read the article here.
Something can be banned formally or informally. In my opinion, the second paragraph of the BBC report implies that Archbishop Romero’s cause was banned formally. It says,
For years, the Roman Catholic Church blocked the process because of concerns that he had Marxist ideas.
The basis of my opinion is that the paragraph speaks of ‘the Roman Catholic Church’ blocking Romero’s cause rather than of any individual within the Church using their position or influence to do so. Do let me know if you disagree with my interpretation.
Staying with the second paragraph, note how the language suddenly changes. In paragraph one, the report says the pope had ‘lifted a ban’. In paragraph two, it says the Church had ‘blocked’ Romero’s cause.
Are the words ban and block synonyms? No, not according to my OED:
To ban – officially forbid something or prevent someone from doing something
To block – hinder or prevent
Actually, you could argue that Romero’s cause was banned in the sense that it was ‘prevented’ from moving forward but I would argue that as another – indeed, the primary – meaning of the word is to ‘officially forbid something’ then the BBC report should not have used the word unless the writer also meant that Romero’s cause was ‘officially prohibited’ as well as prevented.
My reason for arguing this is that by using the word ‘ban’ the BBC writer creates a misleading picture of what has actually happened, or rather, what has not happened.
So, what has happened? Why are we not talking about Blessed or even Saint Óscar Romero right now?
I have no connections in the Vatican. I am just a Catholic tapping away on his keyboard. I, by myself, have no special insight to offer you.
However, unless the unnamed writer of the BBC article is a member of the Vatican, neither does he. He must rely on his sources. Well, as he does, so do I.
The BBC writer’s source is Pope Francis himself. Is there a better source than him? Perhaps not, except, if the writer is going to use him, it would be helpful if he quoted the Holy Father in a way that was relevant to his claim that the Church banned Romero’s cause.
This is what the Pope is quoted as saying,
“For me Romero is a man of God,” the pontiff told journalists on the plane bringing him back from a trip to South Korea.
“There are no doctrinal problems and it is very important that [the beatification] is done quickly.”
Where here is there any proof that the Church banned Archbishop Romero’s cause? Is the writer holding something back? If he is, he is being being lazy in not revealing it.
That’s the BBC writer, what about my source? As it happens, Pope Francis’ wish to see Archbishop Romero beatified is not new. The story is only appearing now – again – because the pope was asked about it yesterday.
Thus, when I read the story this morning I thought to myself ‘this sounds familiar. Didn’t Benedict unblock the cause a while ago?’. So, I googled ‘Benedict Romero Cause’. That’s all. The very first result that came up was this article, written in October 2013, on the Vatican Insider website.
I encourage you to read the article, but the upshot of it is this – after the year 2000, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) assessed Romero’s published and unpublished works and found them to be free of error.
Despite this, not everyone involved in the process was in favour of Romero’s cause proceeding. The report names one of the CDF consulters, the late Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, as having ‘played an important role in slowing the cause down’. As a result of this opposition, the CDF – under the authority of the the future Pope Benedict – put it on hold.
After Benedict’s election to the papacy in 2005, nothing happened. Then, very unexpectedly, in 2007 he,
… told reporters he considered [Romero] a “great witness of the faith, a man of great Christian virtue who worked for peace and against the dictatorship and was assassinated while celebrating Mass. Consequently, his death was truly “credible”, a witness of faith.”… Benedict XVI concluded by saying Romero is a figure who “merits beatification, I do not doubt.”
This corrects the impression given by John McManus in his analysis of the BBC writer’s article (or of his own article?) that Benedict was against Romero’s cause. McManus writes,
Francis’s decision to send the case of the Archbishop Romero to the Vatican’s saint-making office flies in the face of what his two predecessors advocated.
Clearly, by 2007 Benedict was in favour of Romero’s cause being moved on.
Having said that, it would be true to say that, as the Vatican Insider article notes Benedict did not get Romero’s cause moving again after 2007.
Why was this? Was it because he secretly didn’t want it to or because there was still opposition in the Vatican and Benedict – in his determination to be a collegial pope – decided to respect that? For fairness’ sake, we cannot assume ill faith. Unless we have proof of it we have to believe that Benedict would have liked to see the cause pushed on but wasn’t strong enough for whatever reason or didn’t for good reason.
One final point. If you are unfamiliar withe the issues surrounding Archbishop Romero, you might be wondering why there was opposition in the CDF to the continuation of his cause. The answer lies in the ellipsis of the Vatican Insider quotation above.
[Benedict] … explained that “the problem was that a political party wrongly wished to use [Romero] as their badge, as an emblematic figure.”
Obviously, that was the problem during Pope St John Paul II’s pontificate. But in case you have the impression that John Paul had no time for Romero,
During his 1983 pilgrimage to El Salvador, John Paul insisted on visiting Romero’s tomb despite the pleas of Latin American bishops and the Salvadoran government. John Paul II asked local priests to open the door of the cathedral which was locked up by the military. He immersed himself in prayer for a long time in front of Romero’s tomb.
John Paul II again demonstrated his affection for Oscar Romero by insisting ”again against the wishes of many churchmen” that during the 2000 Jubilee Year celebration in Rome’s Coliseum Romero’s name be mentioned among the great martyrs of the Americas.
I’d like to conclude this post by expressing my reservations over another statement made by John McManus. He writes,
Francis’s own instincts early on in his Church career also tended to be suspicious of
Romero’s Liberation Theology, preferring clerics to steer away from political analysis and advocate salvation through prayer instead.
Now, I do not know what Francis taught in his early Church career so I am not speaking here from a position of strength. However, I would be very very surprised if Francis ever told anyone to ‘advocate salvation through prayer’. If he did, I would very much like to see the proof. I appreciate that McManus has to keep things short and simple but there is concise and there is inaccurate and I suspect that his statement is inaccurate.