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The cause for beatification of Archbishop Romero: BBC botched the story

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Aug 19, 2014

Secular journalists frequently get things wrong when they report on the internal affairs of the Catholic Church, and for some reason British journalists have a particular bad track record in that respect. But rarely does a secular outlet get a story so thorough muddled as this BBC report on the attitude of Pope Francis toward the cause for beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

”Pope Francis has lifted a ban on the beatification of murdered Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero,” reads the first sentence. Apart from the awkward phrasing (a “ban” on beatification?), the story is misleading insofar as it suggests that this is a new development. It isn’t.

Well over a year ago, back in April 2013, the postulator for Archbishop Romero’s cause announced that Pope Francis has “unblocked” the cause. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had questioned whether the Salvadoran prelate qualified as a martyr, since his assassins clearly had political motives. Was the archbishop killed because of his faith, or because of his political involvements? And were his political activities entirely inspired by his faith? Those were the questions that complicated the cause.

Did Pope Francis toss aside those questions during his in-flight press conference on August 18—which provided the occasion for this BBC report? Not at all. On the contrary, the Holy Father expressed a keen interest in resolving the question:

What I would like is to have clarified when there is martyrdom in odium fidei, whether it is for confessing the credo or for performing the works that Jesus commands us to do for our neighbor. This is a work of theologians that is being studied.

Pope Francis said that he wanted the questions, and the Romero cause, resolved quickly. He added his own opinion: “For me, Romero is a man of God.” But then he immediately added: “He was a man of God, but there has to be the process, and the Lord will have to give his sign.”

The BBC story makes the absurd claim that Archbishop Romero has been “ignored” by the Church, and says:

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.

Again, thoroughly wrong. First, because the cause has been in the hands of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints (the “saint-making office,” in BBC’s inelegant prose) all along. Then, more important, both Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI praised Archbishop Romero and referred to him as a martyr. Pope Benedict, in particular, had himself moved to unblock the cause, and reportedly once said that the Salvadoran archbishop “merits beatification, I do not doubt.”

So what’s the big news—the new news—about the cause for Archbishop Romero?

  • That the Pope unblocked the cause? That’s old news.
  • That Pope Francis supports Archbishop Romero’s beatification, whereas his successors opposed it? Nope.
  • That Pope Francis wants to rush through to beatification? No, the Pope explicitly said that the cause should go through the ordinary process.
  • That the Pope wants an end to questions about Archbishop Romero’s political activities? No; he wants those questions answered.

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  • Posted by: samuel.doucette1787 - Aug. 20, 2014 7:30 AM ET USA

    Another glaring error in the story is the implication that Romero's cause is moving forward because the Church no longer has a problem with liberation theology. Whether the Church eventually comes to approve of liberation theology (at least in part) or not is immaterial. Was Romero speaking out on behalf of the poor because of liberation theology or was it because he was a good Catholic?

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