Today is the 30th anniversary of Archbishop Oscar Romero’s murder. It was, perhaps, the shot that led to a decade-long civil war. In the movie Romero (1989), Raul Julia plays the title role as archbishop of San Salvador. By the late 1970s, many priests were working with the poor, despite increasing threats and violence from the government and the military. The church hierarchy, not surprisingly, allied itself with the powers-that-be.
The movie shows the low regard in which Romero was held. In 1977 after Archbishop Luis Chavez resigns, there is nervous debate about who will be named his successor. After Romero is named, there’s a scene in which two bishops are discussing him. “He’s a good compromise choice. He’ll make no waves.” The other replies, “He’s a bookworm. The whole country could be running wild, and he wouldn’t even notice it.”
During the course of the movie, we can see how events continually escalate—how the various factions try to co-opt him—and he is increasingly treated with disdain. But he does not compromise.
Are there any lessons for us to learn in our country from Romero? Certainly, we’re nowhere near the level of conflict that existed in El Salvador. Still, this week, we’ve seen the passage of health care legislation that is very much the result of compromise. In response, some lawmakers have demonstrated a lack of civility that, by itself, is nothing terribly serious. Yet they set a poor example for others who are quite willing to resort to violence and hateful acts. They compromise themselves.