Now with extra-added unblocking power: BBC on Pope's support for Romero sainthood

The BBC reported this week on comments that the Pope made concerning Oscar Romero's candidacy for sainthood, claiming Francis has "unblocked" the cause of the Latin American archbishop:

Pope Francis has lifted a ban on the beatification of murdered Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero.

For years, the Roman Catholic Church blocked the process because of concerns that he had Marxist ideas.

An outspoken critic of the military regime during El Salvador's bloody civil war, Archbishop Romero was shot dead while celebrating Mass in 1980.

Beatification, or declaring a person "blessed", is the necessary prelude to full sainthood.

The bishop was one of the main proponents of Liberation Theology - an interpretation of Christian faith through the perspective of the poor.

There are a number of things wrong with this story from the get-go.

First, the lead asserts "Pope Francis has lifted a ban ... ." The only support offered for this is recent remarks by Francis, quoted selectively: 

On Monday, the Pope said he was hoping for a swift beatification process.
"For me Romero is a man of God," the pontiff told journalists on the plane bringing him back from a trip to South Korea.
"There are no doctrinal problems and it is very important that [the beatification] is done quickly."

Here, from the official Vatican transcript, is the full text of Francis's response when asked about the state of Romero's canonization process and what outcome he would like to see: 

The process was at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, blocked “for prudential reasons”, so they said.  Now it is unblocked.  It has been passed to the Congregation for Saints.  And it is following the usual procedure for such processes.  It depends on how the postulators move it forward.   This is very important, to do it quickly.  What I would like is a clarification about martyrdom in odium fidei, whether it can occur either for having confessed the Creed or for having done the works which Jesus commands with regard to one’s neighbour.  And this is a task for the theologians.  They are studying it.  Because after him [Romero] there is Rutilio Grande, and there are others too; there are others who were killed, but none as prominent as Romero.  You have to make this distinction theologically.  For me Romero is a man of God, but the process has to be followed, and the Lord too has to give his sign …  If he wants to do it, he will do it.  But right now the postulators have to move forward because there are no obstacles.

Francis answer is long and complex, to say the least. I have a pontifical licentiate in sacred theology, which qualifies me to teach candidates for the Catholic priesthood, and even I have to reread his words a few times to understand what he is saying about his desire for a "clarification about martyrdom in odium fidei." It has to do with the larger question of whether murdered priests who supported liberation theology could qualify as martyrs  even though they, unlike Romero, did not witness to the Creed as strongly as they witnessed to love of neighbor. (That last point also relates to another major error in the Beeb's understanding, which I'll get to in a moment.)

The bottom line: Where does Francis say that he personally unblocked Romero's cause? Answer: He doesn't. He says, rather, that it is unblocked, and that he is letting the Congregation for Saints follow "the usual procedure for such processes." If the BBC had done its homework, it would have known that, as Andrea Tornielli of Vatican Insider reported when this same "Francis unblocks Romero" story came up more than a year ago, "Benedict XVI had already 'unblocked' the beatification process."

Then there is the BBC's claim that Romero was "one of the main proponents of Liberation Theology." While Romero's relationship with liberation theology was a complicated one, to label him among the "main proponents" is facile and misleading. Granted, he was close to the movement. But he also criticized it, and the nature and force of his criticisms aid his cause for sainthood, as my friend William Doino, Jr., wrote in the Times of London on the 35th anniversary of the archbishop's death:

He could be fierce when exposing the iniquities of unrestrained capitalism, or an anti-Communism that was used as cover for it. But he never lost sight of his spiritual priorities, or was taken in by the militant Left: “The Marxists, the liberation movements of the earth, are not thinking of God or the hope of Heaven,” he cautioned. “Although the Church speaks of liberation, of seeking justice, of a more just social order, it does not put its hope in an earthly paradise. The Church wants a better world, but it knows that perfection will never be achieved in history, that it lies beyond history.”

The BBC story includes an added opinion piece that takes the story's "facts" at face value and adds a new one: "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."

Where is the Beeb getting this from? I look up Francis's two predecessors and I see that Benedict said Romero "merits beatification," and that John Paul II gave his blessing to Romero's cause for canonization. 

All in all, the BBC delivers a poorly researched story that, given the tone of the commentary, reads more like a golly-gee-whillikers "Francis ... wielding his new broom at the Vatican" job (yes, it really does say that) than a serious news piece. No halo for the Beeb.

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