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Greg Grandin on February 4, 2015

oscar-romero-painting

This week, Pope Francis declared Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero a “martyr” for the Catholic faith, the last major step on the road to becoming a saint. Romero was assassinated on the order of a US-trained and -backed death-squader, Roberto D’Aubuisson, almost thirty-five years ago, on March 24, 1980.

According to the National Catholic Reporter, there is unease with Romero’s case for sainthood among high-ranking prelates, including Benedict XVI, “because of Romero’s embrace of liberation theology, a type of Christian theology that posits that Christ did not just seek liberation from sin but every type of oppression.” In fact, there was an actual Vatican banon Romero’s beatification, which the pope lifted with his declaration.

Liberation theology, which had its origins in Latin America, was a powerful force within the Catholic Church, aligning the church with the poor and condemning US-backed militarism. InEmpire’s Workshop I made the case that liberation theology posed an existential threat for the rising New Right, both its secular and religious versions. It was, in many ways, 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 emphasized 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.

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