THE QUESTION was asked in last week's Catholic Herald as to why any plans for commemorating the fifth anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador seemed so "strangely muted — particularly in high-up and official places." Was it because "he was killed by right-wing assassins whose ringleaders are probably still alive and active in El Salvadoran politics?"
Sure enough the anniversary, last Sunday, has come and gone with an accompanying coldness in ecclesiastical Rome that is as of the grave itself as compared with the fervour which — quite rightly — has been reserved for Poland's martyred priest, Fr Jerzy Popieluszko.
The Pope's voice remains powerful but it could one day count for little if it is not heard to speak up for all those who have suffered torture, terror and death at the hands of today's notorious hijackers of freedom. Some of the latter have literally got away with murder because of silence or worse in those quarters where a few words could work wonders if spoken with courage and candour.
The Holy Sec cannot afford to be selective in its condemnation of "injustice", however subtle may be its attempts to condemn evil "wherever it exists" in political circles. The lessons of the pre-war period are still fresh in too many minds. Despite the many attempts to present history in a certain way, the Vatican never pulled a single punch when it came to Fondemning communist evils but was so often depressingly "cautious" when it came to condemning right wing totalitarianism. It believed that co-existence with countries ostensibly protecting Church rights and Church property should be given the benefit of almost every doubt when it came to diplomatic negotiations and the making of public statements. Even the great Pius XII only made a hilly unambiguous condemnation of Nazism after Hitler was safely dead.
It would be horrifying if this pattern, already discernible in outline, should more fully develop today. Someone must have the courage to sound a warning even at the risk of incurring unpopularity. The main tests have been in Latin America. Many still remember a photograph of Pope John Paul shaking a "scolding finger" at Fr Ernesto Cardenal, Nicaragua's minister of culture. Hut in H Salvador the scolding finger was replaced by the friendly handshake, even when it came to meetings with known enemies of the murdered Archbishop Romero.
All this happened in March 1983 even though, as must be firmly recorded, the Pope's first stop on arrival in San Salvador was at the city's cathedral to pray at the tomb of the martyred Archbishop. But more — much more — is needed now as was made evident by events last weekend in El Salvador.
The present Archbishop of San Salvador, Archbishop Arturo Rivera y Damns said "We are still waiting for his (Romero's) death to be cleared up and the guilty to be punished." But must his be a lone voice from high up in the Church to plead for an investigation of "this death and also the countless numbers of others in these terrible years of political violence"?
Can it be that the United States strikes terror into the hearts of those of who are not frightened to speak up courageously for justice in other parts of the world? Will the Church remain silent in the face of the failure by El Salvador's President, Jose Duarte, to take any action over the apparent implication of his own Defence Minister in the Romero murder? Will there be any trenchant comment on Duarte's equally astonishing washing or hands in refusing to implement his election promise to prosecute a full inquiry into the five-year old murder? What is to be said and done about the Pontius Pilates of today, particularly by the Vicar of the One who was the victim as much of human weakness in the face of bullies as of wickedness in the midst of goodwill.
Even the remotest fear of double standards must be avoided at all costs. Ordinary Catholics are hungry for guidance and inspiration, as those humble thousands who last week honoured Archbishop Romero have so movingly reminded us.