Friday, March 22, 2013

Pope Francis And A New Attitude About Some Neglected Martyrs

Archbishop Oscar Romero and other martyrs from the various Latin American dirty wars may finally have their day in the sun under Pope Francis.  Social justice martyrs are still martyrs.

I found a very intriguing article on Vatican Insider. There are South Americans who think Pope Francis will Canonize some of the martyrs of the 'dirty wars'. It seems that might include those who were actual supporters of liberation theology. That would be something of a 180 turn from the attitudes of his predecessors, both of whom let Archbishop Romero's cause for Sainthood stagnate for two decades.

Argentinean dictatorship victim could be first figure to be beatified by Pope Francis

Carlos Murias espoused Liberation Theology

Paolo Mastrolilli - Buenos Aires - Vatican Insider - 319/2013 Francis’ first saint will be a martyr of Argentina’s military dictatorship, if the wish he expressed before he became Pope is respected. Carlos de Dios Murias, a young Franciscan friar who was tortured and brutally murdered by a military death squad in the province of La Rioja, in 1976.

“Bergoglio himself signed Murias’ canonisation cause in May 2011. He did so with discretion, so as to prevent other Argentine bishops “who are still opposed to initiatives based on priests’ social commitment” from stopping the canonization.

Carlos Murias was born in Cordoba, Argentina, in 1945. When he finished his studies, Carlos entered the Seminary and shortly afterwards, was ordained priest by Enrique Angelelli, a militant bishop of the northern Argentinean province of La Rioja. Angelelli was famous for the pastoral work he was engaged in, trying to help the campesinos. The situation in this province was an accurate portrait of the instability that had struck the whole country: power was concentrated in the hands of a few wealthy families, with a mass of workers reduced to near slavery. Murias was sent to found a Franciscan community together with the Frenchman, Gabriel Longueville, when the military coup was launched. The priest started receiving warnings and calls to report to the local military base, where soldiers explained to him that “yours is not a church we believe in.” But Murias continued and on 18 July 1976 he was kidnapped along with Longueville. He was shut inside the El Chamical air base and two days later he was found lying in the middle of a field dead, with his eyes gouged out and his hands cut off. (It is yet to be seen how many Catholics will find a very similar approach from Pope Francis 'a church they can believe in.')

During Murias’ funeral mass, Angelelli said: “They struck where they knew it would hurt the most. I ordained Carlos myself and I put him in danger.” Two weeks later, Mgr. Angelelli was on his way to La Rioja, when a Peugeot 404 drove his car off the road. The police recorded the incident as an accident but only now is the magistrate considering the possibility of murder.

Bergoglio’s involvement was the bit about which the least was known. But his role has finally come to light thanks to a statement issued by Fr. Miguel La Civita, a close collaborator of Angelelli’s: “I met him when we were students.  A few days after the assassinations took place, he took our Seminarists and hid them in the Jesuit Collegium Maximum he headed. These are not just stories I heard somewhere: I actually experienced these events in person. And let me make one thing clear: I was the archetypal third world priest, as they were called back then: liberation theology. The College used spiritual retreats to help the persecuted: it gave them a place to hide, had false documents made and helped them flee abroad. Bergoglio was adamant the military would never muster up the courage to invade the College.”(This is very reminiscent of Angelo Roncalli's actions during WWII.  The man we now know as Pope John XXIII.)
Alicia Oliveira, the famous magistrate who was persecuted by the military and went on to become a human rights activist also confirmed this: “Bergoglio also offered to hide me in the Seminary: I told him I’d rather be arrested by the military than live with priests. He laughed and said I was silly: in hindsight I can see he was right.”
The fact of the matter is that the minute the Diocese of La Rioja started the canonization process, the cardinal signed straight away. “Bergoglio signed and advised discretion: a lot of Argentinean bishops, especially those of a certain age, oppose initiatives based on priests’ social commitment. Thanks to his prudence, the process was able to continue: all testimonies have been gathered and we are not preparing the position. Now Bergoglio is Pope. God’s will performs miracles: it would be so moving if Carlos was the first figure to be beatified by Francis.”  


There is  also considerable speculation that Pope Francis will reenergize the largely dormant case for the Canonization of AB Oscar Romero.  Here's a quote from Salvadoran priest Msgr Jesus Delgado from an NCR article on Romero: 

Msgr. Jesus Delgado also told reporters that in 2007 he spoke with Bergoglio, who told him that if he were the pope, the beatification and canonization of the slain archbishop would the first thing he would pursue.
In another meeting in 2010, Delgado said Bergoglio recalled what he said about Romero in 2007, but said the problem was that he would never become pope.

Cardinal Bergoglio's pope problem has apparently been solved and I could make a pretty good case the solution to that problem might qualify as AB Romero's first miracle.  Unlike Fr Murias, AB Romero was not known for liberation theology per se. Romero came to his social justice credentials later, after he was made Archbishop of San Salvador.  In Romero's day, social justice was not synonymous with liberation theology.  That came later, when JPII suddenly found liberation theology a threat based in Marxist/communist ideology.  Some of us think that sudden need to eliminate liberation theology was helped along by the machinations of the American CIA and National Security strategists employed during the Reagan administration.  By the time GW Bush was in the White House and Pope Benedict in the Apostolic Palace, social justice was a notion about as welcome as lice in  the official voice of US Catholicism.  This was further born out by the attack on the LCWR instigated by right wing American Cardinals.  In any event, the Nuns on the Bus now have a Pope who would rather ride on a bus.  That's got to be at least one source of commonality.

The other aspect which is interesting in the above article is the statements from Fr Miguel La Civita and Alicia Oliveira that Pope Francis, when he was the Jesuit provincial for Argentina,  offered both of them a place to hide and passports and visas out of the country.  I find this very believable in that many Catholic prelates and religious were well known to have engaged in the same kind of subversive behaviors during WWII.  I think this example gives some real insight into how Pope Francis will engage in reform.  It will not be in open confrontation but in more subversive or stealthy kinds of activities. And of course he will also reform things by personal example which can be the most subversive of all acts for a Pope whose curia is used to doing things in quite a different way.  

I suspect what Pope Francis really hopes is that the change in approach becomes a true personal conversion and not just a 'please the new pope' strategy.  Should his personal humility, pastoral touch, and understanding of power through service produce enough conversions that would result in an entirely different clerical culture whose priorities would be very different than they seem to be now.  This process may be the only way the Francis can promote the kind of reform that isn't undercut by his successor because it wouldn't be a matter of surface compliance to the lastest pope in the castle, but a real conversion expressed through committed personal consciences. 

I kind of think the longer Pope Francis is on the job it will become more and more evident that for all their vaunted reforming the reform and stacking of the ecclesial deck with yes men, Popes Benedict and JPII did not inculcate conversions, they coerced obedience from men they terrified into silence and assent.  It's surely going to be interesting to witness what happens in the future.  There may be more than one seeming miracle in that future.


  1. Wonderful post, Colleen, thanks so much for this. The info rather categorically puts to rest many doubts about the man, and makes clear that changes in style are much more than surface deep. Reform thru conversion, what a startling idea. Many more miracles yet to come, I suspect.

  2. Jayden, there's no other way to reform that will have lasting effects. The NCR has a long line of comments to a John Allen post on the five things Francis needs to address if there is to be real reform. I left this comment in response to one of them which made the point Francis could not reform anything if he functioned as an absolute morarch:

    "This is an excellent comment. It explains what we can expect from Pope
    Francis. He knows he can not 'reform' based on being an absolute
    monarch. He has seen how that tactic failed miserably with JPII and
    EPBXVI. In the end, both of these popes resorted to intimidation and
    the silencing of their opposition, and that is not reform. That is
    coercion. He also knows if he doesn't fundamentally change the way the
    curia and clergy relate to their world, any reform he may accomplish can
    easily be destroyed by a successor.

    I think what Pope Francis is up to is not reform, it is conversion to
    a way of relating that turns the old way on it's head. He seems to
    take the idea of functioning 'in persona christi' very literally, and
    not limited to his sacramental role. Not a bad thing that, and one that
    will surely shake up how the clergy view themselves and their role.
    But more than that it will set up far different expectations from the
    laity as to how their leadership should enact their role. Power through
    service is about as subversive an idea for our current Roman Catholic
    priesthood as the ordination of women.

    Eventually, if the Church follows this track, laity will transcend
    their need for a sacramental priesthood in favor of a servant model of
    leadership, and when that happens the ordination of women will be a moot point.

  3. I have plenty of unease about this Pope - but it would be very good indeed if these causes went forward.

    I fear that to 'please the new pope' is often confused with Catholicism, and indeed with Christianity.

    "By the time GW Bush was in the White House and Pope Benedict in the Apostolic Palace, social justice was a notion about as welcome as lice in the official voice of US Catholicism."

    If the Church does not insist on social justice in its Biblical meaning, the Church might as well not exist. It is defined by its calling to further the Kingdom of God brought in by Christ: which is a Kingdom/Reign/Kingship of Justice & Peace. Justice here means righteousness - God's Righteousness as manifested in social relations. (Latin justitia does not adequately express the content of Hebrew tsedaqah) Salvation is an exercise of God's Righteousness because His Righteousness is active for His People's good, in soul and body alike; in their relations to Him, and to one another. The Church seems to have difficulty holding the two aspects of Righteousness together; & presumably always will.

    There is nothing in society, and nobody on earth, whom this Righteousness does not affect. C. S. Lewis said (IIRC) that a fully Christian nation would look too Left-wing for some people's liking, & too Right-wing for the liking of others. Seems he was spot-on. Bring on the lice !