This week, Pope Francisco Bergoglio declared Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez a “martyr” for the Catholic faith, the last major step on the road to becoming a saint. Almost thirty-five years ago, on 24 March 1980, American-trained and -backed death-squader Roberto d’Aubuisson ordered Romero’s assassination. The National Catholic Reporter wrote that there was unease with Romero’s case for sainthood amongst high-ranking prelates, including Benedict XVI Ratzinger, “because of Romero’s embrace of liberation theology, a type of Christian theology that posits that Christ didn’t just seek liberation from sin, but from every type of oppression”. In fact, the Vatican had a ban on Romero’s beatification, which the pope lifted with his declaration.
Liberation theology, which originated in Latin America, was a powerful force within the Catholic Church, aligning the church with the poor and condemning American-backed militarism. In Empire’s Workshop, I made the case that liberation theology posed an existential threat for the rising New Right, both its secular and religious versions. In many ways, it was the first “political religion” that united post–Vietnam War conservatives, before they moved on to Islam. Liberation theology’s threat was primal, since it represented a reformed and progressive version of Christianity that emphasised inherent rights… only not the kind of inherent rights our libertarian Mullahs emphasize (i.e., property rights). Liberation theologians had a vision of individual dignity based on social solidarity and earthly economic justice. In the 1970s, both respected conservative theologians like Michael Novak and fringe Bible-thumpers set their sights on liberation theology as an evil that they had to be doctrinally defeat and institutionally eradicate. It’s in this context that Oscar Romero being cleared for beatification (by a pope from Latin America who has his own complicated relationship to liberation theology) is important, which progressives should see as a rearguard battle in the culture wars, which are political wars, which are economic wars, which in Central America were real life-and-death wars.
5 February 2015
This points up the inherent contradiction at the heart of the so-called “Pro-Life” movement. You can see that in a website called “Consistent Life”… they try to square support for rabid rightwing neoliberalism and American exceptionalism with “Pro-Life” rhetoric. It falls entirely flat, as they’re trying to combine inherently opposite concepts. If you were Pro-Life… you’d oppose capital punishment… but the Republican Party is all for it. If you were Pro-Life, you’d be for a vigorous social safety net (as both Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francisco support)… but the Republican Party is against it in its support of unbridled greed and cupidity. If you were Pro-Life, you’d oppose American aggression in foreign parts… but the Republican Party is all for it, as it profits its big donors. In short, Consistent Life spits on Archbishop Romero’s legacy by supporting a political faction that spat (and still spits) on what he held near and dear. Consistent Life supports the godless and theomachistic Republican Party… ergo, they’re hypocrites of the most noisome sort. On the one hand, you have Archbishop Romero, who died for his beliefs… on the other, you have Consistent Life, which spits on those beliefs by supporting the Republicans who killed him (and who continue to press for a godless Crapitalist Corporate Hegemony over the world). You can honour one or the other… they’re mutually exclusive. I know where I stand. What about you?