What would Archbishop Oscar Romero say about . . . ?

This statement was issued by Pax Christi USA, the Religious Task Force on Central America and Mexico, and the SHARE Foundation: Building a New El Salvador Today.

Twenty-five years ago, on February 17, 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero addressed a letter to President Jimmy Carter pleading with him to not send military aid to the Salvadoran government. One month later, the archbishop was brutally assassinated.

In response to Romero's letter Catholic religious women and men, former missionaries from Latin America, bishops and people in parishes across the United States responded with letters, Lenten vigils and services, and visits to their Congressional and Administration officials to voice their concern for the continuing violation of human rights in El Salvador, and protest over U.S. military aid to that country's government.

Today we ask:

---What would Archbishop Romero say today, if he were proclaiming the Gospel in these times?

---What would he say about the war in Iraq?

---What would he say about the torture scandal in Abu Ghraib prisons and Guantanamo Bay?

---What would he say about our reliance on a nation on national security and our prosecution of the war on terror?

---What would he say about the treatment of migrants and immigrants in our country since September 11th?

---What would about the growing disparity between rich and poor in our nation and in the world?

In these times of crisis for our country and our world, we seek to reclaim the prophetic tradition of the church to speak up more vigorously in defense of poor and the victims of war, following the example of the martyred Archbishop. Romero was a pastor, first and foremost, and truly humble, but he spoke with great passion from the Gospel in defense of the poor:

"A Church that doesn't provoke any crises, a Gospel that doesn't unsettle, a Word of God that doesn't get under anyone's skin, a Word of God that doesn't touch the real sin of the society in which it is proclaimed --- what Gospel is that?"

In the beginning of this New Year 2005, we want to call attention to some of the most painful signs of our time and shine the light of the Gospel on these events in history. We witness a profound silence --- if not a defense of torture --- by high level authorities in the U.S. government; an accelerating war in Iraq with mounting casualties and no end in sight; attacks on immigrants and the militarization of U.S. borders; and a widening gap between rich and poor.

Archbishop Romero knew very well that the Gospel mandates the Church to exercise its influence in the public arena, offering pastoral judgments on issues of war and peace, national security and the economy, and bearing witness to its teaching by calling the faithful to clear ethical and moral actions.

What would he say in these times?

No doubt he would condemn, as did religious leaders around the world, a preemptive war on Iraq as unjust, immoral and a violation of international law. But we believe, based on his passionate defense of the poor and the victims of war in El Salvador during his three years as archbishop, that he would also condemn the current occupation and war against Iraq as unwise and morally unjust.

He would certainly condemn the use or defense of torture, under any circumstances, by any person or government, as a gross violation of human rights and an offense against God. "Whoever tortures a human being, whoever abuses a human being, whoever outrages a human being abuses God's image."

But he would also condemn the growing national security ideology of our government that threatens to institutionalize lying and deception in order to pursue an agenda that favors U.S. geopolitical and economic interests. Quoting the Latin American bishops in Puebla, Archbishop Romero criticized the ideology of national security as "a new form of idolatry… leading to the abuse of power and the violation of human rights."

"In some instances," he said, "they presume to justify their positions with a subjective profession of Christian faith."

Romero would not be silent today. He would speak for the U.S. soldiers at risk in Iraq; for their anxious and grieving families; for the Iraqi and other victims and survivors of torture; for the Iraqi civilians. He would offer pastoral guidelines and encouragement, proclaiming the duty of every Christian and citizen to resist unjust wars. And he would remind every soldier --- as he did in his famous last homily --- of the duty of conscience to obey God's law before obeying an unjust order to kill.

He would certainly question --- in the tradition of Catholic social teaching --- a blatant U.S. unilateralism that defies international opinion, violates international treaties, and declares itself exempt from international law, including the Geneva Conventions. And he would point the way toward peace, calling for greater justice, greater cooperation among nations, and greater commitment to a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

We have no doubt he would repeat with passion --- because he knew intimately the destructive capacity of violence and war --- the words Popes Paul VI and John Paul II: "War no more, war never again!" and "War is a defeat for humanity!"

He would condemn every attack on immigrants, and lift up the Gospel command to offer hospitality to the stranger. And he would certainly condemn as "institutionalized violence" and "idolatry" --- as he did with his bishop colleagues at Puebla --- a global economic model that "absolutizes wealth and private property," depriving the poor without access to dignified work, essential natural resources and services --- including water, health care, education and social security.

What would happen if the Church in the United States were to respond this way?

We might lose privileged access to the places of power, but we would gain the prophetic voice of the Gospel preached from the pulpit and in the public square. We might lose the financial support of wealthy benefactors, but gain the freedom to speak and live the Gospel.

Today, we recognize in gratitude how the legacy of Archbishop Romero has shaped --- and in some cases gave birth to --- the work of our three organizations and inspired our Catholic and faith-based constituencies. On March 7, 1980, the Religious Task Force on Central America and Mexico was born. A year later, the SHARE Foundation: Building a New El Salvador was formed. Pax Christi USA began to broaden its nearly decade-long commitment to peace to include solidarity with El Salvador and Central America.

As we commemorate the 25th anniversary of the martyrdom of a humble and faithful pastor from El Salvador, we call on Catholic religious leaders and faithful alike to speak out, to use positions of influence, to offer another way. Lent is a season of repentance, a time for conversion. Let us be faithful to the spirit of this season, and worthy of Oscar Romero, by our actions for justice and the risks we take for peace, by our boldness in proclaiming the Gospel and the courage to bear the cost.