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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Why FrancisChurch Probably Loves The Idea of Beatifying Fr. Stanley Rother

Here in Oklahoma where I live, there has been a lot of generated excitement over the beatification of a priest who was martyred in 1981 named Fr. Stanley Rother.

Fr. Stanley Rother
This simple man, who was actually expelled from seminary because he had a hard time learning Latin, eventually was able to pursue mission work in Guatemala in 1968, and he had worked with the local Mayans up until his death in 1981.

Fr. Rother had accomplished a great amount of charity work, as well as translating the Bible into Tz'utujil, one of the 20 Mayan languages spoken in that area.  The community there loved him as their spiritual father.

When I read about him, he sounded like a great priest, and it's a shame he was killed.

A Quick Primer On Guatemala

In the years approaching 1981 the government of Guatemala was killing a lot of its own citizens, making them dissappear.  Fr. Rother's own community was getting killed off, and eventually even he was assassinated by them.  Why?

Back in 1944, there was an uprising that overthrew a dictator.  Then, from 1944 until 1954, the country had what they refer to as the Ten Years of Spring, a period of communism that was led by a communist labor party.

But then, in 1954, the United States government involved itself in Guatemalan politics, and under Operation PBSUCESS, our country covertly arranged a coup d'etat that deposed their democratically-elected communist president.

After that, the Guatemalan government had been hunting down communist sympathizers with brutal government repression, all backed by the CIA and the U.S. School of the Americas.

Basically, the U.S. government was training the new Guatemalan government in interrogation, torture, assassination, counterinsurgency, and civilian-targeted coercion.  In other words, we backed death squads.

"Gloriosa Victoria" by Diego Rivera
In this picture, it's 1954, and the U.S. puppet Castillo de Armas shakes the hand of Foster Dulles.  

Eisenhower's face is on the bomb in the center. 

Fr. Rother Was Caught in the Middle

It is believed that Fr. Stan Rother was killed by these death squads.  He once said that "shaking hands with an Indian has become a political act."

Honestly, reading about what he witnessed--one parishioner after another disappear to be tortured and killed--is heartbreaking and tragic.  I am particularly struck when I read about his friend, Diego Quic, who ended up on a death list because he openly criticized the army's harsh tactics.

"Voices of Justice" by Mark Vallen
One evening, when Diego was headed over to the rectory, three masked men ambushed him.  He fought his way to the rectory porch, but the death squad pried him from the wooden banister, dragged him into the backseat of a car, and covered his head.

Fr. Rother could hear Diego scream.  He called the police, but nothing was done.  Rother then spent the next few days searching fields where the death squads threw all of the bodies of their victims.

When it turned out his life was threatened in 1981, Fr. Rother returned to Oklahoma for a few months.  He gave a few talks, one in particular in Edmond, Oklahoma:
During his time in Oklahoma, Rother spoke to the Catholic congregation of St. John the Baptist in Edmond in March of 1981. Leven, who was pastor of that parish at the time, did not hear Rother’s homily but described the incident in the 2001 documentary “No Greater Love: The Story of Father Stanley Rother.”
“He was apparently talking about “the fact that we are brainwashed by the propaganda that is put out by our government on certain things that are going on,” the retired Leven said. “And we know that today Central America is a foreign policy statement that doesn’t fit situations that are taking place there.
“(Rother) said, ‘Well, don’t believe all of those things our government said.’ Well, some of our parishioners objected to that very much.”
In particular, Leven said two parishioners wrote letters to the archbishop and the Guatemalan Embassy in Washington, D.C.
President Garcia
“I do know that involved in this one (letter) that went to the Guatemalan Embassy was a condemnation of him not being a real American patriot to say things like that about our government and that certainly he wasn’t officially speaking for our country in being our ambassador to that particular mission in Guatemala,” Leven said. “So he was roundly condemned by this man.
“It was derogatory enough that it probably had something to do eventually with his demise. And (Rother) said that ‘I think maybe I talked too much when I was home this time. I think maybe I’m in trouble.”   
When the letters from the embassy made their way to President Romero Garcia, he said of Fr. Rother: "He's a communist!"

Irrational Excitement over Rother's Heroic Martyrdom

Truth be told, there were at least nine other priests killed in Guatemala that year.  So why the push for Fr. Rother's canonization?

I can certainly tell you that the folks here in Oklahoma would love to have a hero martyr saint on their scorecard.  Oklahoma is such a "middle of nowhere" kind of a place.  We are located in "flyover country," and the western portion of our state used to be called The Great Western Desert because of how plain and ordinary it was.  We were one of the last states to become a state, and before that, we were an Indian dumping ground known generically as "Indian Territory."

But Pope Francis is not Oklahoman.

Pope Francis actually issued a decree that says the late priest was killed "in odium fidei," which means he was killed out of a hatred of the Faith.

The problem is...Fr. Stanley Rother was not killed out of a hatred for the Faith.  He was theoretically killed by a US-backed death squad who was purging the countryside of any and all perceived threats from communism.  Fr. Rother was a political casualty, just as were the other nine priests who are not up for beatification this year.  He was but one of tens of thousands of people in Guatemala who were singled out and targeted by an out-of-control government that America supported.

His high profile in the community likely helped grab the attention of the local hit squad.  Even more likely is it that the complaints sent from Edmond, Oklahoma to the Guatemalan embassy painted a particular target on his back.

I suppose we could widen our scope of view.  In Guatemala, Protestant, US-backed regimes and evangelical subcultures recognized Catholics and Marxists as one and the same.
In the early 1940s, with the growth of anti-communism among right-wing oligarchs and military leaders, some fundamentalists saw an opportunity to bring the "red scare" into their anti-Catholic repertory.

"Not surprisingly," Smith said in interview, "The (evangelical) Protestants chose to overlook the social injustice, corruption and violence upon which the liberal dictators built their rule."
Is that enough to declare Fr. Rother as having died in odium fidei?  Guilt by association?

Furthermore, his murder was not recorded on tape. In fact, there has actually been confusion about who his murderers were. At first, the crime was pinned on three men who admitted to the crime. But locals who were familiar with the circumstances denied this narrative, stating that the prosecutions were a cover-up of paramilitary involvement in the murder. And then, the convictions of these three men were overturned by an appellate court under U.S. pressure.
The Guatemalan police arrested three men from Santiago Atitlán and charged them with killing Stan during a botched burglary attempt—despite the fact that they did not match Francisco Bocel’s description. The three men were convicted, though later acquitted by an appellate court under pressure from the U.S. State Department.
Archbishop Salatka and U.S. Senator Charles Boren of Oklahoma, among others, called for a thorough investigation, though none occurred. Stan’s killers were never brought to justice.
So...is it even specifically clear why this priest died?  

Pope Francis, the first Latin American pope, thinks that priests killed during Latin America's right-wing dictatorships died out of hatred for the Faith.  But is this not possibly a generalization?  Isn't this a messy way to look at the circumstance of each individual murder case?  Furthermore, how does Pope Francis think he has the credibility to declare this kind of stance, when many questions have arisen about his collaboration with a right-wing dictator in his own Argentinean backyard?

Why Fr. Rother's Beatification Is Great For FrancisChurch

Pope Francis and his ilk would love to have Fr. Stanley Rother canonized.  Because, truth be told, liberal clergy are fans of South American liberation theology.  Latin America is running rampant with it.

"The Flower Carrier" by Diego Rivera
A depiction of the struggle of a common worker
who struggles in a capitalist society.  
Since Fr. Rother was killed by an anti-communist death squad, he gets to wear a double victim status.  He was a Catholic martyr...but also, for Latin American Jesuits liberation theologians, he was "one of us."  Just a harmless adopted child of the Ten Years of Spring.  FrancisChurch gets to say "He died for God, and he died for the people!"  A two-fer.  

In the usual,  meandering, nebulous, amorphous rationale that comes from the Vatican these days, Father Rother--not the other nine murdered priests--becomes a noble representation of everything a self-sacrificing, Novus Ordo, leftist clergy man should be.  

Vladimir Lenin holding hands with the brown people of
the world.  From the mural "Man at the Crossroads"
by Diego Rivera
If such is the case--if this is what Pope Francis and company are doing with Fr. Rother's beatification--then it is quite a tragic and false picture.  

Fr. Stanley Rother was a conservative man.  He was quiet, kind, and as far as I can tell, he was not a political radical.  Sure, in Edmond, Oklahoma he discussed how the United States was propping up a corrupt Guatemalan government that was killing his parishioners.  But that is a far cry from carrying the banner of Marxist liberation theology.  

His report from the Guatemalan front was tragic, but dry and unbiased:
The political situation here is really sad. Guatemala is systematically doing away with all liberal or even moderates in government, the labor leaders and apparently there are lots of kidnappings that never get in the papers. There are something like 15 bodies that show up every day in the country and show signs of torture and then shot.
I haven’t received any death threats as such, but if anything happens that is the way it is supposed to be.
There were other catechists working with the communist political revolutionaries, probably to their detriment.  Their activities did not involve Fr. Rother.  But by providing assistance to the widows and orphans of Guatemalans slain by the government, he was classified as a communist for living in his mountainous region, which was likely filled with the communist rebels the government was unethically purging.  

And for this "pastoral approach," Fr. Rother, a political martyr, will get special attention from one of the most controversial and Leftist popes the Church has ever had to deal with.  


Fr. Stanley Rother was a good man and a great priest.  I am proud of him, I am moved by him, and I wish I could have met him.  He gave his life for the poor people of his mission.  He was a good priest who was unbiased, conservative, unpolitical, though aware of the threats from the Guatemalan state.  He was murdered, and no one was brought to account. 
Fr. Stanley Rother, man of the people.
Caught in the middle of a war between a U.S. puppet government and a communist faction, Fr. Rother was branded with the latter, and seemingly became a martyr for the Catholic cause of mission work as well as for Jesuit-styled communism.  There has been great excitement by Oklahoman locals, but also Leftist clergy, over the idea that the circumstances of his death merit special adoration.  This excitement seems to overstep important details, and it appears that Leftist factions in the Church are eager to get the ball rolling on declaring a hero for their side.  

Now, the canon lawyer office of the Devil's advocate was established in 1587.  Almost 500 years later, that role was diminished significantly under Pope John Paul II.  Many would joke these days that anyone can become a saint, they just have to ride down the right waterslide.  

So, if there will not be any kind of nay-saying, caution, gadfly questioning, or counterarguments coming from the Vatican in a case like this, then I have no problem entertaining that role here.  As a native Oklahoman, I simply would like to be crystal clear about what's being said about one of my local guys.  

I think that Fr. Rother was cool.  I have yet to read anything bad about him.  He strikes me as a type of Father Gabriel (played by Jeremy Irons) from the movie The Mission.  But if this local hero from Oklahoma is going to be painted as a sort of Jesuit/Marxist/Liberation Theologian in the eyes of FrancisChurch, then I would like to take a moment to stop the line and call attention to the above facts. 

If there are any developments in my research on this matter, I will follow this article up.  



  1. Thanks Laramie. Father Rother sounds like a very good man being used by a not very good man to further his post-modern version of Catholicism. Under the circumstances sainthood should wait.

  2. The book "Making Martyrs East and West" by Cathy Caridi goes into precise historical and theological detail about what the Catholic Church has traditionally meant by the term "martyr." Needless to say, this ain't it.

    1. Interesting. I may check this out. Thank you.

  3. He died for the charity of Catholic social justice doctrine, like being killed by the mafia. AND his heroic virtue was ordinary. AND the rightists that killed him was due to THEIR making their policy ABSOLUTE in a way that kills charity. This is what Pope Francis means when he says things like doctrine CAN BE USED to hurt people. Just wait for the miracles needed. God is trying to show us that we can be saints in the ordinary circumstances of our lives a la St. Therese of Lisieux. He was ordinary but the circumstances of his life were not. The heroism was to go back to his flock and be faithful. It was giving his all for the flock given to him. AND what a wonderful example of holy AMERICAN masculinity.

    1. Your bulletpoints are not enough to justify his beatification.

      "AND the rightists that killed him was due to THEIR making their policy ABSOLUTE in a way that kills charity."

      There have been rightist Muslims in the Middle East who killed leftist Muslims because their policy was ABSOLUTE in a way that kills charity. Should we make the leftist Muslims martyrs for Catholicism? The same could be said for Hindus and Buddhists.

      This is vague.

  4. I lived and grew up in Guatemala among members of the military. The hatred for the Church among them was profound. Fidelity to the Church became synonymous with Marxism or enmity to the state. Many people left the Church, simply out of fear.

    Yes, there were other priests and religious killed, and they should be recognized. Father Stanley's heroism lay in his choice to remain above politics by returning to remain among the innocents of his flock. That was not true of other priests, such as a well-known Maryknoll priest and his wife - a former nun - who took up arms against the government. That pair has lived very well since then on the leftist circuit.

    The history of Guatemala is a tragedy, not a melodrama. That Father Stanley's example should be used by leftists to advance their agenda is a scandal, but it does not diminish Father Stanley's heroism and holiness. With the coup in 1954, the US effectively crushed any intermediary institutions between the military and the people. By the late 1970s, the Church was but an opponent that had to be wiped out or silenced.

    1. Indeed. Fr. Stanley sounded like an awesome priest. And it's fascinating--and understandable--how Guatemalans are able to equate Catholics with Marxists. Just look at what the Jesuits have done. They have created an enormous mess. When South America tires of socialism, there will be a culling directed at all Catholics once more, and it will be a bloodbath. Thanks, Jesuits.

  5. Why didn't Fr.Rother wear his collar or Cassock?