Saturday, September 06, 2014

a church for the poor?


NYTimes |  Pope Francis grabbed headlines recently when he announced that Rome had lifted the block on sainthood for Archbishop Óscar Romero of San Salvador, who was shot dead while saying Mass in 1980. But much less attention was given to another of the pope’s actions, one that underscores a significant shift inside the Vatican under the first Latin American pope in the history of the Roman Catholic Church.

Archbishop Romero was assassinated after speaking out in favor of the poor during an era when right-wing death squads stalked El Salvador under an American-backed, military-led government in the 1970s and ’80s. For three decades Rome blocked his path to sainthood for fear that it would give succor to the proponents of liberation theology, the revolutionary movement that insists that the Catholic Church should work to bring economic and social — as well as spiritual — liberation to the poor.

Under Pope Francis that obstacle has been removed. The pope now says it is important that Archbishop Romero’s beatification — the precursor to becoming a saint — “be done quickly.” Conservative Catholics have tried to minimize the political significance of the pope’s stance by asserting that the archbishop, though a champion of the poor, never fully embraced liberation theology.

But another move by Pope Francis undermines such revisionism. This month he also lifted a ban from saying Mass imposed nearly 30 years ago upon Rev. Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, who had been suspended as a priest for serving as foreign minister in Nicaragua’s revolutionary Sandinista government in the same era. There is no ambiguity about the position on liberation theology of Father d’Escoto, who once called President Ronald Reagan a “butcher” and an “international outlaw.” Later, as president of the United Nations General Assembly, Father d’Escoto condemned American “acts of aggression” in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But there is more to the pope’s action than kindness to an 81-year-old man. In a remarkable turnaround, liberation theology is being brought in from the cold. During the Cold War, the idea that the Catholic Church should give “a preferential option for the poor” was seen by many in Rome as thinly disguised Marxism. Pope John Paul II, who had been brought up under Soviet bloc totalitarianism, was determined to crack down on it. On a visit to Nicaragua, he famously wagged a finger at Father d’Escoto’s fellow priest and cabinet minister, Ernesto Cardinal. The Vatican also silenced key exponents of liberation theology, and its founding father, the Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutiérrez, was placed under investigation by the Vatican’s guardian of doctrinal orthodoxy, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, or C.D.F.