Sunday, March 18, 2007

A Legacy Being Buried: Jon Sobrino and Oscar Romero

I'm sorry. I'm still indignant about this whole Jon Sobrino thing... For the purposes of full disclosure, let me mention here that some of my wife's first cousins are to be found among the highest levels of membership of Opus Dei in the United States. That is why, with some reluctance and ill-ease, I have to agree with the opinion of many observers that Opus Dei has succeeded in gaining control over the hierarchical workings of the Catholic Church. They really do seem to have control over all of the main levels of power within the institutional structure. Hey, give them their due. In the forty-year struggle over the direction of the Church since Vatican II, they have eaten the progressives' lunch. They kept their eye on the ball. Apparently, they cared more, and they worked harder.

In this Boston Pilot article this morning, I noticed the following about the Sobrino case:

The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, said that while the Vatican has not imposed sanctions on Father Sobrino "this does not mean other authorities, for example a bishop, cannot decide that in light of this notification Father Sobrino cannot teach or give conferences" in a specific diocese or institution.Archbishop Fernando Saenz Lacalle of San Salvador, where Father Sobrino resides, told reporters March 11 that Father Sobrino would not be able to teach theology unless he revised his positions in light of the Vatican critique.

See this is the way it works now... Instead of the CDF or the Holy Father having to play the role of the heavy, the principle of subsidiarity is brought into play. The responsibility of being the hard guy is passed on to the local bishop in question, and the most conservative bishops are getting what they are asking for. We saw it in the Call To Action matter with Bishop Bruskewitz, and now we see it with Opus Dei bishop Saenz Lacalle.

Who is this Archbishop Fernando Saenz Lacalle? He's an interesting man. Read more about him...

The hand of Opus Dei in El Salvador

Archbishop calls for pardon for women's killers - Archbishop Fernando Saenz Lacalle of El Salvador

San Salvador archbishop ousts Jesuit pastor of barrios parish.

Slain Jesuits get no nod as pope bows to Saenz - Pope John Paul II, Archbishop Fernando Saenz Lacalle

Salvador's new brigadier causes outrage - Archbishop Fernando Saenz Lacalle promoted by Salvadoran armed forces

What an ultimate difference between him and Oscar Romero, but perhaps not initially.. In his fine book Romero, James Brockman SJ tells of how Oscar Romero, upon first being appointed as Archbishop of San Salvador, had the same concerns about Jon Sobrino and his Christology as the current CDF does.

Some excerpts regarding the pastoral letter issued the first year he was archbishop, and then the second one..

August 6, the feast of the Transfiguration of Christ, is for Salvadorans the national patronal day in honor of the Savior. For the 1976 celebration Romero preached the homily at the pontifical mass in the cathedral of San Salvador. It was a carefully prepared address, and he later published the text in El Apostol.

Romero recalled the founding and naming of San Salvador by the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado in 1528, making the Savior the patron of the city and the future nation. He spoke of the doctrine of the human and divine natures of Christ, defined by the Council of Chalcedon in 451, and proceeded to make a swinging attack on "so-called new Christologies." Jon Sobrino, director of the Center for Theological Reflection at the Central American University, had just published a book on Christology and took Romero's words as an attack on his work-as they undoubtedly were, (Though as archbishop he later called on Sobrino's theological skills, he never mentioned the sermon to Sobrino.)

Romero spoke of Christ as liberator, but most of his words were a warning about merely temporal liberation. Absent was any suggestion that Christian liberation might involve conflict. Rather, he called for harmony: "How beautiful would be this August 6 if on leaving this ancestral home after sharing a sincere return to our origins, we bore in our souls the resolve to understand one another better, each in the place where the hand of Providence has put us; if the members of the government and the shepherds of the church, if capital and labor, if those of the city and those of the countryside, the initiatives of the government and those of private enterprise--all of us were to really let the Divine Savior of the World, patron of our nation, inspire and mediate all our conflicts and be the artisan of all the national transformations that we urgently need for the integral liberation that only he can build."

Romero's piety and his devotion to the church and its authentic teaching shine through the sermon. He attacks the new theology because it seems to him to threaten the church's teaching and belief in the divinity of Christ. He is worried that liberation will be understood in a merely material way. He calls for love, still trusting in the good will of all.

In mid-1976 Romero organized for his clergy a three-day study of the government's new land-reform program. Although the project was very small, much of it fell in his diocese and would involve campesinos for whom he had a pastor's responsibility. He took the priests' analysis of the project, which criticized it rather severely, to his friend President Molina. But the project never got going. Within three months, the same docile congress that had unanimously approved it killed it unanimously under pressure of the landowners.

During his two years in Santiago de Maria, Romero's attitudes and positions were still evolving. According to the Passionist priest who was his pastoral vicar the second year, in his sermons and clergy meetings he often quoted Vatican II, but never Medellin. He had attended institutes on theological and pastoral topics as an auxiliary bishop in 1971 in Medellin and in 1972 in Antigua Guatemala, filling notebooks with what the leading thinkers of the day were teaching. But his own mentality was evolving only slowly. It would take the catalyst of his first weeks as archbishop to bring about a dramatic change.

By the time the next August rolled around, Romero's views were very different. After a year of being attacked in the press as a tool of Marxists, of seeing Jesuits, Maryknolls, and layworkers attacked and murdered, of seeing ordinary campesinos and his pastoral associates harrassed, intimidated, and persecuted, Romero had an epiphany of sorts, and instead of attacking Sobrino, he asked him to prepare a draft for his next pastoral letter...

Archbishop Romero wrote his second pastoral letter to be published on August 6, feast of the Transfiguration of Christ, which is observed in El Salvador as the feast of the Divine Savior of the World, the titular patron of the archdiocese and the nation. Like his first pastoral, it was about the church, but it focused on the church as Vatican II and Medellin had begun to renew it-the church that the newspapers and FARO attacked and whose priests and catechists were persecuted. The church as it was being renewed was also the church that puzzled and disturbed many sincere Catholics used to the earlier ways. It displeased and saddened many, because it demanded that they change and be converted, "and all conversion is difficult and painful, because the change that is demanded refers not only to ways of thinking but also to ways of living."

Romero wanted to explain to people why the church of the archdiocese was acting differently from what they were accustomed to. He asked Jon Sobrino to write a first draft, and Romero then rewrote it, retaining Sobrino's basic argument and general outline. The letter brings together what Romero had been preaching in his homilies: "What I am going to say here is not at all new. But I believe it is desirable to repeat it because it has not been sufficiently assimilated and because in our country many voices, on the radio and in the newspapers, presume to judge what the church is, distorting its true nature and mission."

The fundamental change in the church in the preceding years, Romero said, was the new way in which the church looked at the world, "both to challenge it in regard to what is sinful in it and to be challenged by it in regard to what may be sinful in itself." The gospel was the foundation of this change in the church's view of the world, a change that had "helped the church to recover its deepest Christian essence, rooted in the New Testament." The church had become more deeply conscious that it is present in the world, that what happens in the world touches it and concerns it, that events are "signs of the times for it. And it had become more deeply conscious that it is in the world to serve the world, to be a sign and sacrament of salvation, "to make present the liberating love of God shown forth in Christ."

The church had recovered the insight, which fills the pages of the Bible, that God is acting in human history. Salvation history and profane history are not distinct, but the same. Medellin says: "In the search. for salvation we must avoid the dualism that separates temporal tasks from sanctification."'

The church's relation to the world as universal sacrament of salvation "defines its firm position against the sin of the world and strengthens its stern call to conversion," Romero said. "By being in the world and for the world, one with the world's history, the church uncovers the world's dark side, its depths of evil, what makes humans fail, degrades them, dehumanizes them."

Looking at sin, the church calls for conversion, beginning with its own. And viewing the overwhelming poverty and suffering of most of humanity, in particular in Latin America, it must call for conversion of both hearts and structures. "In the encounter with the world of the poor it has found the most pressing need of conversion. The love of Christ that urges us (2 Cor. 5:14) becomes a clear demand before the brother or sister in need (1 John 3:17)."

Many attacks on the church of the archdiocese, the renewed church that the pastoral letter describes, came from a professed zeal for Catholic tradition, which was supposedly being forgotten or rejected by innovators. Romero took up the question of change in the church. "Whoever does not understand or accept this new perspective will be unable to understand the church. To keep oneself anchored, out of ignorance or selfish interest, in a traditionalism without evolution is to lose even the notion of the true Christian tradition. The tradition that Christ confided to his church is not a museum of souvenirs to preserve. It comes, indeed, from the past and is to be loved and preserved faithfully, but always with a look to the future. It is a tradition that makes the church fresh, up-to-date, and effective in each epoch of history. It is a tradition that nourishes the church's hope and its faith so that it can keep on proclaiming and inviting all toward the `new heaven and new earth' that God has promised (Rev. 21:1; Is. 65:17)."

Change in the church is not infidelity to the gospel. Rather, it comes from the very depths of the faith and, indeed, makes it more faithful and better identified with Jesus Christ.

"This is the theme of my letter: the church is the body of Christ in history. By this I mean that Christ has wanted the church to live in every period of history. The church's founding is not to be understood in a legal, juridical manner, as though Christ had got a few men together to entrust them with a teaching and given them a charter, while remaining himself separate from the organization. Rather, the origin of the church is something much deeper. Christ founded his church in order to keep on being present himself in the history of human beings, precisely through that group of Christians who form his church. The church is thus the flesh in which Christ incarnates throughout the ages his own life and the mission of his person."
Thus the church must change if it is to be faithful to its mission as the historical body of Christ. If it ceases to be that body, it is no longer his church. "Therefore, in the different circumstances of history, the criterion that guides the church is not the satisfaction of human beings or its fear of them, no matter how powerful or feared they may be, but its duty to lend to Christ through history its voice so that Jesus can speak, its feet so that he can walk the world of today, its hands to work in the building of the kingdom in today's world, and all its members to `fill up what is lacking in his suffering' (Col. 1:24)."

As the body of Christ in history, the church must do what Jesus did in his life-proclaim the reign, or kingdom, of God. The kingdom that Jesus preached was one in which people would live together as brothers and sisters and as children of God. He called all classes, but showed his preference for the known sinners, the prostitutes, the tax gatherers, the lepers, the Samaritans, and all the outcasts of his time. The church must prefer the outcasts of the present-the campesinos, the slum dwellers, the exploited laborers, the prisoners, those abused by the powerful.

Like Jesus, too, the church must point out sin. He denounced the commercialization of the temple, the observance of law without its spirit of justice and mercy, the rich who did not share, the self-righteous who despised sinners and Samaritans, the leaders who placed unbearable burdens on the people. Sin obstructs God's reign, keeps people from living in justice and love. The church must denounce the selfishness that lurks in every heart, the sin that dehumanizes, that unmakes families, that turns money, possession, gain, and power into the purpose of life. It must also denounce those social, economic, cultural, and political structures that oppress and impoverish people. "But, like that of Christ, the church's denunciation is inspired not in hatred or resentment. Rather, it seeks conversion of heart and the salvation of all."

This description of the church fitted also the archdiocese. "On the titular feast of this year it offers itself, marked with the painful and glorious signs of martyrdom and persecution, precisely because of its faithfulness in being the body of Christ in our history."

But just when the archdiocese was making its greatest effort to be faithful to the gospel, it was accused of betraying the gospel. Romero reduced the many accusations to three: that the church preached hatred and subversion, that it had become Marxist, and that it had gone beyond the bounds of its mission in order to meddle in politics.

That the church preached hatred and violence, he denied. The record showed that it had preached love and forgiveness in the face of persecution "The church has not called brother to rise against brother, but it has re-called two fundamental facts. The first is what Medellin says about `institutionalized violence' (Medellin Peace, no. 16). When a situation of permanent and structured injustice is set up, then the situation itself is violent. In the second place, the church knows that whatever it says in this situation, even when it is really guided by love, will sound violent. But it cannot refuse to say it. It cannot deny what Jesus said: `The kingdom of God suffers violence, and the violent take it by force' (Matt. 11:12). It is the violence of struggling against one's own selfishness, against the sluggishness of a nature more inclined to dominate than to serve. It is the violence with which the violence of the situation is denounced."

As for being Marxist: "What we can call Marxism is a complex phenomenon that must be studied from an economic, scientific, political, philosophical, and religious viewpoint. Marxism must also be studied within its own history." The church says that Marxism as an atheistic philosophy is incompatible with Christian faith. "The real problem is that, to the traditional condemnation of atheistic Marxism, the church now adds in equal measure the condemnation of the capitalist system, which it denounces also as one of the practical materialisms."

The church lives amid specific ideologies and social practices. It ponders the good and the evil, the attraction and temptation that are hidden in both the socialist currents and in the capitalist ideology. "But when it examines and judges the different ideologies, it is moved first of all by the ethical concern of its faith, rather than the desire to give technical judgments on the practical measures that the different ideologies propose."

As for meddling in politics: what the church says and does can certainly have political effects, but the church does not use the mechanisms of political parties or similar organizations to do its task. In El Salvador, Romero reminded the people, the law recognized the church, but in recent months its priests and catechists had been attacked and their rights trampled, and their rights were part of the church's responsibility. The persecution touched Christ himself, because it afflicted his followers: "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" (Acts 9:4).

Romero continued: "The church is persecuted because it wants to be truly the church of Christ. As long as the church preaches an eternal salvation without involving itself in the real problems of our world, the church is respected and praised and is even given privileges. But if it is faithful to its mission of pointing out the sin that puts many in misery, and if it proclaims the hope of a more just and human world, then it is persecuted and slandered and called subversive and communist."

The church's service of the gospel and the resulting persecution had given the archdiocese, said Romero, a unity unknown before.

This unity and solidarity is for me a very clear sign that we have chosen the right road. But the events of the last months remind us that the union of Christians is obtained not by lips confessing a single faith but by putting that faith into practice; it is achieved around a common effort, a single mission. It is obtained in faithfulness to the word and the demands of Jesus Christ, and it is built upon common suffering. There can be no unity in the church while the reality of the world we live in is ignored; and thus, although the show of unity has been impressive, it has not been total. Some that call themselves Christians have not contributed to the unity of the archdiocese, either out of ignorance or to defend their own interests. Rather, anchored in a false traditionalism, they have misinterpreted the action and teaching of today's church, have turned a deaf ear to the voice of Vatican II and Medellin, and have been scandalized at the church's new face.... What divides is not the actions of the church, but the sin of the world and of our society. What has happened in our archdiocese, and what always has happened when the church is faithful to its mission, is that when the church enters the world of sin with an intention to save and liberate, then the world's sin enters the church and divides it. It separates the authentic Christians of good will from those of mere name and appearance.

At the moment, he said, the archdiocese needed unity more than ever in order to be credible and effective. It had lost many priests and catechists, but the pastoral work had grown with the awareness of many Catholics who had not previously lived their faith so deeply. It was expanding its work through the radio, Orientacion, schools, and parishes. Vocations to the priesthood and religious life were growing, but God was also calling lay people to take on responsibilities in the church. "There has never been in our archdiocese so much hope as now, in one of the most difficult moments of its history. Persecution has not produced discouragement, retreat, or faltering, but Christian hope."

He concluded with the hope that the government would understand the church's practice of integral evangelization. He was ready to converse with the government "as long as the dialog is based on common language and not on the discrediting and defaming of the church's language, and as long as a sequence of events succeeds in restoring to the church the trust that has been lost." Such events would include accounting for disappeared persons, the end of tortures and arbitrary arrests, freedom from fear for those who had fled their homes, due process for deported priests. The dialog thus begun would move toward cooperation of church and state for the creation of a just social order.

Murdered Jesuits and housekeepers.

Murdered Maryknoll nuns and layworkers

Archbishop Oscar Romero, murdered while celebrating Mass.

Draw your own conclusions


crystal said...

A powerful post, Jeff. You inspired me to write something on the subject also.

Matthew said...

Thanks, Jeff & Crystal.

Liam said...

Great post, Jeff. I'm very concerned with the weight Opus Dei has in the church -- they're not only conservative, but also secretive, efficient, and very concerned with preserving the privileges of the few and wealthy.

drake said...

March 19th is when Opus Dei members renew their contractual commitment.

Before they join, their relationship is couched in terms of a "vocation" and the ideal of transforming the world from within.

However, once they are members, they are reminded time and again of the multiple "norms" that they have to perform on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly basis, none of which were identified clearly and exhaustively before they joined.

Charles of New Haven said...

Visiting the place of the Jesuits' martyrdom down in San Salvador was one of the most overwhelming experiences of my religious life. The garden, the chapel, it was all so much.

Our postulancy for the brothers in Central America is outside of San Salvador. Tney have the biggest avocado tree I've ever seen.

For me, Sobrino and that sort of thing are not really my focus..but it seems to me what he says about Chalcedonian orthodoxy--the full humanity of Jesus--meaning that God must be sought in history, this is a claim with a lot of weight behind it in terms of how to understand the Incarnation through the best of what late modernity has to offer and is thus not to be taken lightly.

Sorry, that's the kind of sentence that makes my second thesis reader cringe with editorial pain.

Jeff said...

Hi Crystal,

Thanks for your post too. You picked the golden nuggets out of those articles.

Hi Matthew,

Thank you for visiting. I hope that you always feel welcome here. I miss seeing your posts at Crystal’s as often as I used to.


Sorry, that's the kind of sentence that makes my second thesis reader cringe with editorial pain

Ha! That’s alright, I think I got it... I know I could use a style-editor myself for my poor punctuation, overuse of commas and the passive voice, superflous words, and run-on sentences.

I envy you for your trip to El Salvador. I appreciate what you say about Sobrino even though it’s not really your thing. The Franciscans, of course, have that long and venerable tradition of their own of a poverty-based-spirituality.

Liam and Drake,

Drake’s story is one that I’ve heard many times. Drake, I hope that you haven’t left the Faith over it.

Like I said, the whole OD issue touches upon family, and I’ve seen the tensions and fissures that it can cause within a family, so I don’t want to get into it too deeply. I don’t have much to say about Opus Dei beyond the following:

I’ve encountered Opus Dei people in almost every parish I’ve ever had any kind of association with. Like any other group of people you could mention, some have been wonderful and deeply spiritual people, others seem kind of creepy. Our immediate family is a big family, and Opus Dei families tend to be big (among their non-celibates, that is), so it is not unusual for us to come into contact with Opus Dei families in the course of parish life, or people who are sympathetic to them. Some people who don’t know us well have even assumed that we were OD just based upon the size of our family, that we are vocal about being pro-life, and that fact that we go to Mass every week. They have a tendency to home-school their children, and I have to say, their kids usually turn out pretty well from what I have seen. I know that a lot of people enjoy their retreats, and people looking for sound catechetical materials with some meat in them often look to OD for advice. I’ve only been to an OD house once, where I heard a very fine Advent reflection given by a Filipino priest. I think most of the rank and file sincerely believe they are acting out Vatican II in sanctifying their daily work and living out their lives as priestly witnesses in the lay spehere.

Having said all that, I have some very deep reservations about them that echoes what Liam said. One of them is, that you don’t really “join” Opus Dei. They scout and recruit the people that they are interested in. You don’t really see a lot of tradesmen and blue-collar types, like you would in the Knights of Columbus. Rather, they tend to be interested in the professional classes. People with good jobs, appearance, advanced degrees, and/or influence. Therefore, it seems to me, that their vision of Church is top-down, and thus inverted from what it really should be. I don’t care for the secretiveness and the lack of straight answers when you ask people about their affiliation with it, and I’ve heard from people who’ve left OD that it demands of them their entire lives, and if you leave and turn your back on “the work”, you become ostracized and threatened with damnation. I have reservations about clerical celibacy to begin with, so I have to admit that I find life-long professions of celibacy taken by lay people to be bizarre. I think the self-mortification accusations tend to be overblown. I know a lot of people are put off by the sharp distinction in sex roles, and that many women in OD are treated like workhorses for the benefit of the men. Basically, it is an old world Spanish model that doesn’t translate very well over here.

Politically, I don’t like they way they have been scrambling for power in the Church, and instigating campaigns to undercut their perceived enemies. I wish there was no such thing as a personal prelature. They are a bypass on the normal structure of the Church. Opus Dei should be subject to the local ordinary, just like everyone else. The risk being run by personal prelatures is very similar to that of groups that are in a state of schism. Independence from the local bishop and the broader Church, a sense of unique mission, and a sense of fidelity to a deceased founder tend to make the survival and interests of that particular group more important than the survival and interests of the Catholic Church as a whole. Can you say that about all religious orders? Perhaps, to a degree, but I think it is more pronounced in this case.. It has been useful for them to have more radical groups like the SSPX on their right to grant them some cover (“You think we are conservative? You should see those SSPX guys”), but it looks to me as if there is quite a bit of unspoken sympathy for the most extreme elements. What concerns me, whether it comes from OD or not, that a lot of what is said about Vatican II today from Rome is merely lip service. It increasingly looks to me that the group that lost the debates at the Council, and overwhelmingly lost the votes, has been fighting a very successful campaign to scuttle it ever since.

Steve Bogner said...

Wow, you guys sure can write a lot; wish I had time to really absorb it all.

Jeff, I agree with you on this. I'm a huge fan of Oscar Romero and the Jesuits, so it's easy for me to agree with what you wrote. Regarding OD, I don't know much about them; but things done in secret are going to be more prone to abuse and distortion than those that are done in public. Who knows, maybe some day OD will have it's very own suppression, like the Jesuits did back in the day (late 1700's - early 1800's, right?)...

Paula said...

Hmmm...some time later (next year only)I will share with you people a little story about how someone tried to recruit me for an organization quite similar with OD (a local one). I do not want to post it on my blog now. Anyway the story it is very closely related with the reason for which I delayed so much my official conversion. I am not against OD or similar groups. Just that sometimes they kind of hunt people. And it appears that their inner structure and rules are quite rigid...

Jeff said...


You know, the older a person gets, the harder unquestioning blind obedience becomes. If you live long enough, you start to see certain people and certaion groups fall in and out of favor, and you notice that what comes around goes around...

Paul VI didn't trust them completely. John Paul I probably would have been even less inclined.


That's very interesting, but I have to say it isn't entirely surprising. Just within the past year alone in your journey, I'm betting that you have seen a lot of interesting things in blogdom and on the web that you might not have intitally expected.

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