BY PAULO SANCHEZ
LAST WEEK'S APPOINTMENT of an arch-conservative Opus Dei bishop w the archbishopric of San Salvador has been greeted with anger and disbelief throughout the Salvadoran church.
Spanish-born Fernando Sienz Lacalle, 62, who has declared that "liberation theology no longer has a place in El Salvador" is a bizarre choice for a notoriously liberal archdiocese.
San Salvador's former archbishops, including the slain Oscar Romero, have always enjoyed a prickly relationship with the Vatican through their advocacy of an "option for the poor" theology. With some justification, many progressives now feel that Rome is wreaking her revenge.
Jesuit Fr Rodolfo Cardenal, the vice rector of San Salvador's Central American University, said that the selection of Sienz, an "absent and silent figure" would "rupture the tradition of an archdiocese and archbishopric that has...been theologically and pastorally committed to the poor".
The Jesuit professor's words were echoed by a US missionary, who described the appointment as "a stroke for the rich and the military". Many allude to Sienz's apparently close relationship with the military.
University sociologist Rafael Guido Bejar has alleged that the appointment was an attempt to "integrate the government and rightwing sectors of the military who resent what they view as a lack of support from the political right".
Other left-wingers go even further; one anonymous priest claims that key politicians have sent clear messages to Rome "that they didn't want another bishop like Romero".
Nevertheless, the doomsdayers could be proved wrong. Romero, though never a member of the secretive Opus Dei, was an archconservative when appointed, and only later began speaking out against the repression in El Salvador. And a conciliatory Sienz, aware that he is walking a political tightrope, has lauded his "predecessors" and stressed the "importance of working to eradicate poverty and to elevate the level of humanity of people".
But appeasing tones or not, many feel that a man who describes liberation theology as a "rereading of the gospel in Marxist code that tends towards violence" is hardly the best choice for a country stained with the blood of its people.
Guido and Cardenal emphasised that Romero, too, was a stalwart conservative when he became archbishop. "But he wasn't of Opus Dei origin," Guido said last week at a press conference.
"If Sienz maintains his conservative stance, this will mean a step ahead for the right wing sectors. And the poor of El Salvador will be the real losers," Guido said. "But, we must remember that the reality of El Salvador is so severe that anyone with any sensibility is easily led to defend the poor."