Thursday, May 21, 2015

Oscar Romero's Beatification

Check out journalist Carlos Dada's discussion of Archbishop Oscar Romero in The New Yorker. He points to the dispute about how to characterize Romero on the eve of his beatification.

Romero was indeed deliberately and intensely political. He discovered the power of the archbishopric and decided to use it to influence the Salvadoran political process in favor of the victims and against the military regime. But his direct confrontation with the established powers can’t explain his assassination. He was killed because those powers thought they could get away with it. And they did, because Salvadoran history, for them, was a lesson in controlling the system through repression.

Even more biting:

The Church has now declared that Romero was killed because of his faith. Yet the death squads, the military, and the wealthy financiers of his killing all professed to be followers of Christ. Some of them, still alive, are active members of church communities, give lots of money to Catholic conservative organizations, send their kids to Catholic schools, and never miss a Sunday Mass. They say that they have God to thank for all their possessions (never mind their corruption, exploitation of the poor, repression, impunity, and historical position as the effective owners of the state). On religious grounds, they firmly oppose abortion, gay marriage, and birth control. They were not opposed to killing thousands of people who challenged their point of view. And, during the reigns of John Paul and Benedict, they also had leverage in Rome.

The gospel of prosperity is well-known in the U.S. as well, and is equally nauseating. Romero was killed because of his faith only to the extent that he embarrassed and threatened those who saw religion as a vehicle for wealth accumulation. In other words, I am rich and therefore I must be blessed. By definition, those who are poor are not blessed and not trying hard enough.

As a non-Catholic (not to mention non-religious) person, I find this whole sainthood process pretty baffling. Nonetheless, as a political scientist it is fascinating to see the politics behind both his death and his legacy. And what you see is a man of deep faith who used his position of influence to challenge the violent elite, which was an enormously selfless (and highly political) act, and then he paid for it with his life. For me that's enough for sainthood.


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