San Salvador Archbishop Ousts Jesuit Pastor of Barrios Parish

Article excerpt

In a move interpreted throughout church circles in El Salvador as an attempt to weaken the influence of Jesuit community and the memory of the country's martyrs, San Salvador Archbishop Fernando Saenz la Calle has removed as Jesuit priest and three nuns from a thriving parish after 14 years of service.

Saenz, a Spanish-born member of the archconservative Opus Dei movement who was appointed by Pope John Paul II to the San Salvador see in April 1995, telephoned Jesuit Fr. Rodolfo Cardenal Sept. 18 and told him he would be removed as pastor of Cristo Resuscitado parish. The parish is located in the working-class barrio of Santa Tecla.

Saenz also informed Srs. Juan Marta Saravia, 55, Eva del Carmen Menjiver, 55, and Lorena Castro, 28, that they would no longer be facilitating parish activities in the barrio of Quetzaltepec, where the church is located.

In a telephone interview from San Salvador, Cardenal, a church historian and the outspoken vice rector of the Jesuitrun Central American University -- UCA -- said Saenz cited Cardenal's shortage of time and the size of the parish as reasons for the removal. Cardenal was not at the university No. 16, 1989, when six Jesuit colleagues, their housekeeper and her daughter were slain.

"The clergy, some ecclesiastic officials and public opinion have interpreted this as a retaliation by Saenz against me and against the UCA. This is his way of showing displeasure," Cardenal said.

He said this is only the latest in a string of similar gestures by Saenz aimed at "separating out those people in the ecclesial community who do not think like he does or who are not docile in their thoughts."

According to Cardenal and other members of the archdiocesan community, measures adopted by Saenz since his appointment include discouraging religious superiors from sending their theology students to the UCA; the expulsion of at least 10 progressive candidates from the archdiocesan seminary under the charge they were "undisciplined"; the exclusion of certain publications, among them the theological writings of Jesuit liberation theologian Jon Sobrino, from the seminary library; the revamping of both the archdiocesan radio and newspaper -- and the removal of progressive personnel from both -- to reflect a conservative vision of the faith; the juggling of parish priests; and the transfer of auxiliary bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez from a post of authority in the archdiocese to a parish.

In the tradition of his slain colleagues and of the murdered Archbishop Oscar Romero, Cardenal has remained an outspoken critic of these measures and of the social injustice permeating a postwar El Salvador plagued by rising poverty and violence.

German Jesuit Fr. Martin Maier, who teaches every other year at UCA, said, "Fr. Cardenal is political in the sense that he tries to defend the interests of the poor in El Salvador. He is quite a well-known speaker, often appearing on television. He speaks in favor of the majority of the poor people in El Salvador. He defends their rights."

Maier said Cardenal's social activism "is not appreciated by the archbishop. (Saenz) wants the church out of any conflict."

Parishioners at Cristo Resucitado opposed Cardenal's removal and attempted to persuade Saenz to reverse the decision, according to a pastoral worker from the parish. Saenz, who, according to pastoral workers, has never visited the parish, responded by appointing the territorial vicar, Fr. Rogelio Esquivel, as temporary pastor. The parish is now directed by Fr. Luis Eduardo Mejia, 32, an assistant appointed because Esquivel needed help serving his own huge parish community.

Cristo Resucitado parish rose from the pastoral outreach work of Srs. Saravia and Menjiver, who were the first to arrive in the barrio in 1982. Inspired by Romero's commitment to the poor, Saravia said she and Menjiver "opted to leave the comfort of our convent to better serve the pastoral needs of the people. …