This is a look into the life of one of the most controversial churchmen of the twentieth century, the archbishop of San Salvador, assassinated in March 1980, presumably by a right-wing death squad. Although the book is subtitled A Life of Oscar Romero, only chapter 2 deals with the period before February 1977 when Msgr. Romero was elevated to the post of archbishop. The rest of the book is a meticulous account of his daily struggles against the government of his country on behalf of the poor and oppressed, and against the reactionary churchmen who opposed his ministry. The point of view is laudatory of the archbishop throughout, rather in the manner of lives of the saints, yet the scholarship is thorough and the writing clear.
It is perhaps a pity that more space was not devoted to the earlier life of Msgr. Romero, for chapter 2 reveals him to have been an extremely complex individual, much more conservative in his views than his later career might have suggested. He was, for instance, while working as auxiliary bishop of San Salvador, closely involved with the ultraconservative Catholic organization Opus Dei (p. 40), and was partly responsible for driving the Jesuits out of the seminary on the grounds that they were teaching “Marxism” (p. 44). It is ironic that it was the murder by the rightist death squads of a Jesuit, Romero’s close friend Rutilio Grande, S.J., shortly after Romero became archbishop, that started him down the road of defending the people against their government and that eventually led him to martyrdom. Romero denied that he underwent any sudden conversion experience, and Father Brockman demonstrates how gradual the process of his reorientation was.
This book will be extremely useful for anyone interested in the violent transformation of El Salvador and Central America. It might perhaps have received a larger audience had Father Brockman gone more deeply into the complicated psychology of his subject. He might also have given us more information about the political situation in El Salvador and the social and economic causes behind it. A person coming to the book without some prior knowledge of this subject might find it hard to follow all the ins and outs of Salvadorean politics. On the whole, however, the author has achieved what he intended, a thorough exposition of the stormy three years that Romero spent as archbishop.