February 11, 2001
volume 12, no. 42

Another Viewpoint from Readers

    Editor's Note: Our feature profile on Archbishop Oscar Romero riled a few of our loveable liberals out there. In fairness, here's Father Beach's response to our profile of the marytred Bishop who was chosen by the readers as the 68th most influential Catholic of the 20th Century.

"When I give food to a hungry person, I am called a saint, but when I ask why the poor are hungry, I am called a communist!"

   There are a few errors in your biography of Archbishop Romero as #68 of the 100 Top Catholics of the 20th century. Archbishop Oscar Romero was not shot while distributing communion, but as he spread his arms to begin the offertory. This action and circumstance --the offering of the sacrifice--clearly speaks very strongly to the Salvadorans who were present and continue to tell the story.

    Also, Romero didn't really oppose the FMLN, which wasn't technically formed until the summer of 1980, after he had been killed. In his final pastoral letter, Romero even reluctantly admitted that those who had resorted to armed resistance were perhaps doing the only thing possible in the face of oppression.

    Your insinuation that liberation theologians are communists and leftists and unfaithful is another example of the very persecution Romero himself suffered. If you paint people with these colors, you can dismiss them without qualms. Furthermore, your description of Romero's audience with Pope John Paul II has been contradicted. Romero had been strongly supported by Paul VI, a real saint, yet John Paul II was initially fairly icy to Romero, most likely as a result of reports that Romero was sympathetic to communist rebels, reports made by the papal nuncio to El Salvador, an unscrupulous lackey of the rich and powerful there.

    The Pope (John Paul II) did show strong character and perspicacious judgment, for he came to recognize Romero's integrity and realized that he had not offered the support he should have in their meeting.

    I know many people of El Salvador who were members of base communities and who followed, without being theologians themselves, the gospel that liberation theology preaches, a message perfectly consistent with the official social teachings of the church.

    These men and women were tainted with the stigma of being communists and persecuted, but when you ask them how strong communist ideas were in their base groups, they say they know little if anything of it, but only know some of their own were shot because they taught people to read the bible and ask questions about justice.

    As Dom Helder Camara of Brazil has said, "When I give food to a hungry person, I am called a saint, but when I ask why the poor are hungry, I am called a communist!" Be careful that your well-intentioned praise of Msgr. Romero doesn't slander the very people he was defending in the late 70's. By declaring unfaithful and communist all those who find that liberation theology unveils to them the true gospel, you are continuing the persecution that martyred Romero.

    Also, the United States was not involved with the Sandanistas, who were the rebels who toppled the US-backed Somoza dictatorship, but with the Contras (anti-Sandanistas) who attempted to restore the rule of wealth and privilege, and who defended their murder by saying they were anti-communist (and were thus believed by fearful but gullible Americans.)

    Donald Beach, OSB
    St. John's Abbey
    Collegeville, MN

For the article in question, see Profiles in Faith: Archbishop Oscar Romero

February 11, 2001
volume 12, no. 42
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