Oscar Romero’s Assassination Case in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights


Oscar Romero

In late 1993, a complaint regarding the Romero case was filed with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) by the Director of Oficina de Tutela Legal of the Archdiocese of San Salvador and by Romero’s brother. The petition alleged that the State of El Salvador had violated Romero’s right to life, to a fair trial and to judicial protection as well as the state’s obligation to respect and guarantee the rights set forth in the American Convention on Human Rights.[1]

The Salvadoran government did not question the admissibility of the petition and did not controvert or challenge its factual assertions. Instead, it asserted that the release of the persons implicated in the crime was in accordance with, and required by, the General Amnesty Law.[2]

Nearly seven years later, on April 13, 2000 (just after the 20th anniversary of Romero’s assassination), the IACHR issued its report making detailed factual findings.[3] In relying extensively on the Truth Commission Report, the IACHR stated that the Truth Commission had a “seriousness of methodology” and a “guarantee of impartiality and good faith derived from its composition,” that had been agreed to by the State. Therefore, the IACHR concluded “the results of [the Truth Commission] investigations into this case merit faith” and will be considered.[4] This is an example of what I have called the interactive global struggle against impunity.

The IACHR concluded that El Salvador had violated various provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights as alleged by the petitioners.[5] The Commission then recommended that the government (a) undertake “expeditiously a complete, impartial, and effective judicial investigation to identify, try and punish all the direct perpetrators and planners of the violations . . . notwithstanding the amnesty” law; (b) make reparations for the violations; and (c) “adapt its national legislation to the American Convention with a view to nullifying the General Amnesty Law.” [6]

The last recommendation regarding the General Amnesty Law followed the Commission’s lengthy analysis of the legality of that law under international law. The Commission noted that it had held similar laws in other countries to violate a state’s obligations under the American Convention [7] and that it previously had advised the Salvadoran government that its General Amnesty Law was also invalid.[8]

Although El Salvador as a member of the Organization of American States (OAS) has an obligation to comply with the Commission’s recommendations, it had not done so as of July 2007. This failure was the subject of a hearing before the Commission in October 2007, when it was revealed that the government and the San Salvador Archbishop’s office had been engaged in a dialogue about the Romero case and other issues. What, if anything, was accomplished in this dialogue is still unclear.[9]

In any event, El Salvador did not adopt any of these recommendations during the administrations of President Flores and Saca from the ARENA Party from 2000 through June 2009.

Since taking office in June 2009, however, President Funes from the FMLN Party has taken steps to adopt at least some of the IACHR recommendations in this case.

In November 2009 at an IACHR hearing on the status of the Romero case, the Funes government advised the Commission that El Salvador accepted responsibility in the case for the State’s violation of the right to life and to justice. It also announced that the State would produce an official video about Romero’s life and legacy and would make a public confession of the State’s responsibility. In addition, the Funes administration formally advised the IACHR that the Salvadoran state accepted the binding nature of the Commission’s past decisions involving the country and the state’s responsibility to implement its recommendations. The Funes government, however, told the IACHR that it could only request the prosecutor to reopen the Romero case and that repeal of the Amnesty Law was up to the Salvadoran legislature. [10]

In January 2010, at a ceremony to mark the 18th anniversary of the signing of the Peace Accords, President Funes on behalf of the Salvadoran state admitted that during the civil war state security forces “committed serious human rights violations and abuses of power, made an illegitimate use of violence, broke the constitutional order and violated basic norms of peaceful coexistence.” These crimes included “massacres, arbitrary executions, forced disappearances, torture, sexual abuse, arbitrary deprivation of freedom” and other acts of repression. Funes on behalf of the state then said “I apologize to children, youth, women and men, elders, religious, peasants, workers, students, intellectuals, political opponents and human rights activists.” Funes also announced the creation of a commission to offer redress to the victims.[11]

Romero Mural at San Salvador Airport, March 2010
Romero Poster, March 2010

In March 2010, on the 30th anniversary of Romero’s assassination, Funes dedicated a mural about Romero in the departure lounge between all the souvenir shops and restaurants at the country’s international airport. There in his capacity as President, Funes said, “I apologize on behalf of the Salvadoran State for this assassination.” He also apologized to Romero’s family and extended his condolences. Later to journalists Funes said he apologized because the state failed to investigate and that any new investigation was a decision for the courts, not the President.[12]

At the same time, March of 2010, the President made positive remarks about Romero at one of the public rallies commemorating Romero’s life.  In addition, at a concert in honor of Romero at that time, Funes said that Romero was the spiritual guide for El Salvador and for his government and that Romero would not want more hate, more confrontations or more violence; instead Romero believed in a civilization of love which is justice and truth.[13]

[1] I-A Comm’n on Hum. Rts., Monsignor Romero v. El Salvador, ¶¶ 1-2 (Case No. 11.481; Rep. No. 37/00 April 13, 2000).

[2]  Id. ¶ 3.  After the dismissal of the criminal charges against Saravia, he was a defendant in a civil case in a U.S. federal court about the Romero murder. See pp. 21-22 infra.

[3]   I-A Comm’n on Hum. Rts., Monsignor Romero v. El Salvador, ¶¶  30-55.

[4]  Id. ¶ 30-54, 88, 120.

[5]  Id. ¶¶ 4, 87-122, 157.

[6]  Id. ¶¶ 4, 159.

[7]  Id. ¶¶ 123-51.

[8]  Id. ¶¶ 131-32; I-A Comm’n on Hum. Rts., Report on the Situation of Human Rights in El Salvador § II (4) (Feb. 11, 1994); I-A Comm’n on Hum. Rts., Annual Report 1994, ch. IV (Feb. 17, 1995); Massacre Las Hojas v. El Salvador, Rep. No. 26/92 ¶¶ 11-13 & Conclusions ¶¶ 3, 4, 5(a), 5( c) (Case No, 10.287 Sept. 24, 1992)(1987 amnesty law).

[9]  El Salvador: Who’s Defending Monsignor Romero, Revista Envio Jan. 2008.

[10] Inter-Am Comm’n on Human Rights, Press Release No. 78/09: IACHR Concludes Its 137th Period of Sessions (Nov. 13, 2009); Assassination of Archbishop Romero: 30 Years of Impunity, Revista envoi (April 2010).

[11] Caravantes, Funes pide perdon por abusos durante la Guerra, http://www.elfaro.net (Jan. 16, 2010); El Salvador President Apologizes to Civil War Victims, Latin American Herald Tribune (Jan. 22, 2010). Earlier that same day the country’s Vice President, Salvador Sanchez Ceren, apologized for the actions of the FMLN guerrillas during the war. Immediately after President Funes’ apology, two former presidents from the ARENA political party (Calderon Sol and Alfredo Cristiani) and three other officials form their administrations criticized the speech and said it was “revenge without equanimity.” (Caravantes, supra.) The IACHR, however, announced its satisfaction over Funes’ recognition of state responsibility, apology and creation of a reparations commission. (IACHR, Press Release No. 4/10: IACHR Welcomes El Salvador’s Recognition of Responsibility and Apology for Grave Human Rights Violations During the Armed Conflict (Jan 21, 2010).

[12] Assassination of Archbishop Romero: 30 Years of Impunity, Revista envio (April 2010).

[13] Email, Ann Butwell (Center for Global Education) to the author (Mar. 15, 2010).

The Abominable Rules of the U.S. Senate Are Modified

   The Rules of the U.S. Senate improperly thwart the rule of the majority.[1]

Last week another facet of those Rules raised its ugly head. In response there was a modest indirect change to the rules that facilitates the Senate’s being able to act on measures on the merits.[2]

At least sixty-two Senators, including 11 Republicans, had voted to end debate on a bill to impose sanctions on China for failure to revalue its currency. Under a Rule that allows consideration only of proposed amendments that the parties agree to be considered after cloture, there was an agreement for consideration of seven such amendments for the Chinese currency bill.

Senator Mitch McConnell

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell then made ten motions to suspend the rules to allow introduction, debate and voting on unrelated amendments. Under the Senate Rules, such a motion to suspend the rules requires a two-thirds vote (67 Senators).

In response to one of the motions to suspend the rules, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid raised a point of order that such a motion was not permitted. The Senate Parliamentarian speaking through the chair of the Senate rejected the point of order and thereby allowed consideration of the motion to suspend. Reid then appealed the ruling of the chair to the entire Senate, and the Senate by a simple majority vote sustained the appeal and thereby overruled the Parliamentarian and barred the motion to suspend the rules.

Senator Harry Reid

I am against the Senate Rule that requires at least 60 votes to end debate on a measure and another Senate Rule that requires a two-thirds vote (67) to change the Rules. I, therefore, am pleased to see this very modest indirect modification of the Rules to improve the ability of the Senate to act on measures on the merits.

But maybe it is not such a modest change. Senators are now “abuzz” about the previously rarely used tactic of challenging the Parliamentarian’s rulings. Texas Senator John Cornyn, Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is reported to have said, “If we get in the majority, in which I anticipate we will, this completely freezes out the minority, which is where the Democrats will find themselves.” There is speculation that it may make Republicans in the current Senate less willing to break a filibuster if Senator Reid does not agree to allow their amendments for votes.[3]

Senator Reid reportedly is trying to soothe tensions by inviting Republican Senators to join Democrats in a rare bipartisan closed-door meeting to discuss these arcane issues of Senate Rules and procedure.[4]

In the meantime, on October 11th, the Senate by a vote of 63 to 35 (with 16 Republicans) passed the bill that would require the U.S. Treasury Department to determine if China was improperly valuing its currency to gain an economic advantage and if such a determination were made to order the U.S. Commerce Department to impose stiff tariffs on certain Chinese goods.[5]

That vote, however, is not the end of that story. Another version of a bill on Chinese currency passed the House of Representatives, 348 to 79, in 2010 while the Democrats still controlled that body. Now House Republicans in the majority do not intend to bring the Senate bill to the floor. The White House probably is pleased with this stalemate because it is concerned about the impact of such a bill on the many issues between the U.S. and China. Not surprisingly China has threatened a trade war if the bill becomes law.[6]

[1] See Post: The Abominable Rules of the U.S. Senate (April 6, 2011).

[2] Sonmez, Senate makes unprecedented rules changes amid late-night debate over jobs, procedure, http://www.washpost.com (Oct. 7, 2011); Reid, Trying to restore Senate comity, http://www.washpsot.com (Oct. 10, 2011); Editorial, Chipping Away at Gridlock, N.Y. Times (Oct. 10, 2011).

[3] Raju, Is 51 the new 60 under Senate rules?, http://www.politico.com (Oct. 11, 2011).

[4] Id.

[5]  Steinhauer, Senate Jabs China Over Its Currency, N.Y. Times (Oct. 11, 2011).

[6]  Id.; Liberto, Senate passes China currency bill, http://www.cnnmoney.com (Oct. 11, 2011).




Litigation Against Conspirators in the Assassination of Oscar Romero


Alvaro Saravia

As previously mentioned, the Truth Commission for El Salvador named Alvaro Saravia, an aide to Roberto d’Aubuisson, as one of the participants in the plot to assassinate Archbishop Oscar Romero.[1]

When the Truth Commission report was released in March 1993, criminal charges against Saravia were being considered by the Salvadoran courts. Soon thereafter, however, those criminal charges were dismissed pursuant to the country’s hastily enacted General Amnesty Law.[2]

In September 2003, a U.S. human rights organization, the Center for Justice and Accountability, filed a civil lawsuit by a relative of Oscar Romero alleging that Saravia, then a California resident, as an aide to Roberto d’Aubuisson played a key role in organizing this assassination. The case sought money damages under two U.S. statutes, the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and the Torture Victims Protection Act (TVPA).[3]

A year later, the court held that it had personal jurisdiction over Saravia as he was a resident of the California district and legally had been served with process to commence the case. The court also held that the case (initiated 13 years after the murder) was not barred by the U.S. 10-year statute of limitations under the U.S. equitable tolling doctrine because the plaintiff could not have obtained justice in Salvadoran or U.S. courts due to his legitimate fear of being killing for making such a claim and the Salvadoran government’s erection of roadblocks to Salvadoran judicial remedies. Similarly the lack of any effective Salvadoran judicial remedy meant that the plaintiff did not have to satisfy the TVPA requirement to have exhausted remedies in the foreign country.[4]

In this context, the U.S. court discussed the March 1993 El Salvador amnesty law and the invocation of that law to end the Salvadoran criminal case against Saravia. These actions were seen by the U.S. court as evidence of the plaintiff’s inability to obtain any judicial relief in that country, thereby eliminating any requirement for the plaintiff to have exhausted his Salvadoran remedies. The U.S. court apparently assumed that the Salvadoran amnesty law had no application to the U.S. case as that issue was not discussed.[5] However, the court did receive testimony that the Law was “directed to what the Salvadoran courts should do. It tells the Salvadoran courts how to deal with these cases” and that courts in other countries need not, and should not, take that Law into account.[6]

Saravia never responded to the civil complaint and did not participate in any way in this lawsuit. Even though this default constituted, by operation of law, an admission of all the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint and a conclusive establishment of his liability, the court conducted a five-day default hearing, and the plaintiff provided independent evidence in support of the claims, including the live testimony of the driver of the assassin’s car.[7]

The court then entered extensive findings of fact and conclusions of law holding Saravia liable and ordering him to pay $10 million of compensatory and punitive damages to the plaintiff. The court determined that the murder constituted a crime against humanity, because it was part of a widespread and systematic attack intended to terrorize a civilian population. As the court stated, “Here the evidence shows that there was a consistent and unabating regime that was in control of El Salvador, and that this regime essentially functioned as a militarily-controlled government.” The government perpetrated “systematic violations of human rights for the purpose of perpetuating the oligarchy and the military government.” The court also concluded that what happened in El Salvador was the “antithesis of due process” and that there could not be a better example of extrajudicial killing than the killing of Archbishop Romero.[8]

The court received into evidence the Truth Commission Report and relied extensively on it in reaching its findings.[9]

Because Saravia had not participated in this case in any way, there was no appeal, and the district court’s decision became the final judgment. Now Saravia is one of the “most wanted fugitives” for “human rights violations” by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.[10]

In 2006 and again in 2010, Saravia was reported to be in an unidentified Latin American country for his personal security when he was interviewed by Salvadoran journalists and admitted to his involvement in the assassination plot. He appeared to be a tormented person barely getting by.[11] He has not paid any part of the $10 million judgment and undoubtedly never will.

Roberto d’Aubuisson, who was named as the “intellectual author” of the assassination by the Truth Commission, died of cancer in February 1992, just after the signing of the Peace Accords that created the Truth Commission.[12]  He never was subjected to any criminal or civil charges for this horrific crime. Nor was anyone else other than Saravia.

[1] See Post: Oscar Romero’s Assassination (Oct. 8, 2011). Information about the Truth Commission’s creation and operations has been provided. (See Post: International Criminal Justice: The Jesuits Case in the Truth Commission for El Salvador (June 9, 2011).)

[2]  See Post: International Criminal Justice: El Salvador’s General Amnesty Law and Its Impact on the Jesuits Case (June 11, 2011).

[3] CJA, Key Conspirator in Assassination of Salvadoran Archbishop Romero Faces Lawsuit in U.S. Court, Sept. 16, 2003, http://www.cja.org/cases/romero.shtmo; Chang, Modesto man accused in ’80 slaying of bishop, San. Fran. Chronicle, Sept. 17, 2003; Branigan, Suit Filed in ’80 Death of Salvadoran Bishop, Washington Post, Sept. 17, 2003.

[4]  Doe v. Saravia, 348 F. Supp.2d 1112, 1118-19, 1142-43, 1147-48 (E.D. Cal. 2004). The roadblocks included the Salvadoran government’s thwarting Saravia’s extradition from the U.S. to El Salvador and the adoption and application of the amnesty law to the Salvadoran criminal case against Saravia. (Id. at 1148.)

[5]  Id. at 1133-34, 1151-53.

[6]  Trial Transcript at 772-73, Doe v. Saravia (E.D. Cal. Sept. 3, 2004), http://www.cja.org/cases/RomeroTranscripts/9-3-04%20Trial%20Transcript.txt. See also Post: El Salvador’s General Amnesty Law in U.S. Federal Court Cases (June 14, 2011).

[7]  348 F. Supp.2d at 1143-44.

[8]  Doe v. Saravia, supra; CJA, El Salvador: Alvaro Rafael Savaria, http://www.cja.org/cases/romero.shtml; Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Justice Comes to the Archbishop, http://www.nytimes.com/2004/08/31/opinion/31menchu.html.

[9]  Doe v. Saravia, 348 F. Supp. 2d at 1131-32.

[10] U.S. I.C.E., News: ICE Most Wanted Fugitive, http://www.icc.gov/pi/investigations/wanted/Rafael_saravia.htm.

[11] Reyesei, Conspirator in Romero assassination speaks out, Nuevo Herald  (Mar. 24, 2006); Tim’s El Salvador Blog, Conspirator in Romero assassination speaks out (Mar. 24, 2006),http://luterano.blogspot.com; Dada, How we killed Archbishop Romero, (Mar. 25, 2010), http://www.elfaro.net.

[12] Severo, Roberto d’Aubuisson, 48, Far-Rightist in Salvador, N.Y. Times (Feb. 21, 1992).

Oscar Romero’s Tomb

San Salvador Cathedral, 1989
San Salvador Cathedral, 1989



My first visit to Oscar Romero’s tomb in the Cathedral of San Salvador was in April 1989. The Cathedral is in el centro with all the noise and hurly-burly of buses and other traffic. The building was not finished. Steel rods protruded from the rough concrete shell of the building waiting for other parts of the structure. (Romero had halted all construction because he did not think it was right for the church to be spending money on its building when the people were suffering from poverty and human rights abuses.) On the steps were women from COMADRES with their bullhorns protesting against the latest wave of repression. Inside, scraps of linoleum were on the floor along with scattered plain wooden benches. In the right transept was Romero’s tomb–plain concrete covered with flowers and prayers of the people. As I stood there, the words “My body broken for you” from the Christian sacrament of communion echoed in my mind. Tears still come when I remember being in that place at that time. (See Post: My Pilgrimage to El Salvador, April 1989 (May 25, 2011).)





San Salvador Cathedral, 2000
Oscar Romero Tomb, 2000


In March 2000 on the 20th anniversary of Romero’s assassination I visited the Cathedral again. The construction of the building had been completed. In a formal sense, the exterior was beautiful with ceramic tiles by the country’s great artist, Fernando Llort, surrounding the main entrance. The tomb had been moved to the crypt and was more formal and elegant. But it had lost its spiritual power for me.











March 2010 marked the 30th anniversary of the assassination when I returned to the Cathedral. The tomb had been moved again, now to a more central and prominent part of the crypt. It was totally covered with flowers, pictures and other things so that it was impossible to tell what the tomb itself looked like. Only when I found photographs on the Internet could I see the tomb itself. At the four corners of the bronze tomb, sculptured figures of Salvadorans are rising from the horizontal image of the dead Romero with his Archbishop’s Mitre. The artist apparently was inspired by Romero’s statement shortly before he was assassinated, “If they kill me, I will rise again in the Salvadoran people.”  The separate elements of this tomb are beautifully executed, but as a whole it is depressing. All I could think, what an ugly brass four-poster bed. I extend my apologies to Romero and the artist.


Oscar Romero Tomb, 2010
Oscar Romero Tomb, 2010
President Obama @ Oscar Romero Tomb, 2011

Oscar Romero’s Funeral


Oscar Romero
San Salvador Cathedral

On Palm Sunday, March 30, 1980, Oscar Romero’s funeral mass was held on the front steps of San Salvador’s Cathedral. In attendance were the Papal Nuncio to El Salvador, Cardinal Ernesto Corripio of Mexico and bishops from Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Ecuador, France, Ireland, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. The mass was concelebrated by Cardinal Corripio; Father Miguel D’Escoto, who was the Foreign Minister of Nicaragua; Father Gustavo Gutierrez, the Peruvian liberation theologian; 30 bishops; and 300 Salvadoran priests.[1]

An estimated 250,000 people crowded into Plaza Libertad in front of the Cathedral, whose front steps held Romero’s coffin on an improvised alter. Many people carried photos of Romero with flowers and palms for Palm Sunday. They listened to the mass over loudspeakers.

Cardinal Corripio delivered the homily. In reference to one of Romero’s well-known teachings, “Violence cannot kill truth or justice,” Corripio said, “We cannot love by hating. We cannot defend life by killing.”

The Cardinal was interrupted by a loud explosion near a corner of the adjacent National Palace, which also fronted onto the plaza. It was a bomb. Soliders from the roof and windows of the National Palace started shooting into the crowd.

The people in the plaza starting running away. Many fled to the streets going away from the Cathedral. Others ran towards the Cathedral, but an iron fence prevented many of them from entering. Of the 40 who were killed that day, many had been trampled by others fleeing to safety.

People at Romero Funeral

Somehow Romero’s coffin was moved to the inside of the Cathedral, and Cardinal Corripio and others hastily buried Romero’s body in the tomb that had been prepared in the east transept of the Cathedral.

The Cathedral was packed with so many people they could hardly breathe for the next two hours until they thought it was safe to leave.

That afternoon the government released a statement blaming a popular organization (Coordinating Commission of the Masses) for the bomb and the violence and also alleging that the organization had tried to steal Romero’s body and had held people inside the Cathedral under the pretext of protecting them.

That evening a group of the foreign visitors at the funeral issued a statement that was signed by eight bishops and 16 others. They denied the accusations in the government’s statement and reported that witnesses said the bomb and shooting came from the National Palace.

These attacks on the people, in my opinion, were intended to frighten them from following Romero’s denouncements of human rights violations by the state and others.

[1] Treaster, 26 Salvadorans Die At Bishop’s Funeral, N.Y. Times (March 31, 1980); James Brockman, The Word Remains: A Life of Oscar Romero at 221-23 (Orbis Books 1982); Maria Lopez Vigil, Oscar Romero: Memories in Mosaic at 416-22 (EPICA; Washington, DC 2000). Romero’s funeral provides the opening scene for Sandra Benitez’s novel, The Weight of All Things (2000). The main character, a nine-year-old boy Nicolas Vereas, and his mother are in the crowd in the plaza to pay homage to Romero. When bullets fly, the mother throws herself on top of her son to protect him and is killed. Nicolas, however, believes she is only wounded, but cannot find her. The rest of the novel describes his perilous search for her.

Oscar Romero’s Assassination

Capilla de Hospital de la Divina Providencia
Capilla de Hospital de la Divina Providencia

On March 24, 1980, Monsignor Oscar Romero was delivering what turned out to be his last homily in the beautiful, intimate, modern chapel at a cancer hospital in San Salvador that was across the street from Romero’s small apartment.[1]

A red four-door Volkswagen drove up in front of the chapel. A man in the back seat of the car raised his rifle and fired a single shot through the open front door of the chapel. Romero fell and died behind the altar just after he had said, “May this body immolated and this blood sacrificed for humans nourish us also, so that we may give our body and our blood to suffering and to pain–like Christ, not for self, but to bring about justice and peace for our people.”

The Truth Commission for El Salvador, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have made the following findings regarding the assassination of Romero:[2]

  • On March 24, 1980, Roberto D’Aubuisson had a meeting with three members of his security team: Alvaro Saravia, Eduardo Avila and Fernando Sagrera. Avila said that later that day Romero would be celebrating mass at the Capilla and that this would be a good opportunity to kill him. D’Aubuisson ordered that this be done and put Saravia in charge of the operation. When someone said a sniper would be needed, Avila said he would contact one through Mario Molina, who was another member of D’Aubuisson’s security team. Yet another member of the team, Amado Antonio Garay, was assigned to be the driver for the assassin.
  • Later that same day in the parking lot of the Camino Real Hotel in San Salvador, according to the Truth Commission, the assassin (a bearded man) with a rifle got into a red, four-door Volkswagen that was driven by Garay. A different account of this meeting was provided by Garay himself in testimony in the U.S. federal court case. Upon instructions from Saravia, Garay testified that he drove the car to a house in San Salvador, where Saravia entered and brought out a tall bearded man carrying a long rifle with a telescopic lens. Before the car left, Saravia told the bearded man, “It is better to shoot in the head because maybe he [might] have a bulletproof vest. You have to be sure he got killed.” Saravia told Garay that he would be provided protection by men in another car.
  • The bearded man told Garay where to go, and on the way, the bearded one said, “I can’t believe it, I’m going to shoot a priest.”
  • Garay drove to the Capilla, and the bearded man told him to stop at its main entrance. Garay saw people sitting in the pews of the chapel and a priest speaking at the altar.
  • The assassin then fired a single high-velocity .22 caliber bullet from the rear seat of the Volkswagen through the open entrance door of the Capilla. The bullet hit and killed Romero.
  • Afterwards, upon D’Aubuisson’s order, another member of his security team, Walter Antonio “Musa” Alvarez, received 1,000 colones, and he and Saravia paid the assassin.
  • In the proceedings before these three institutions, the assassin himself was not identified.[3]

[1] See Post: Archbishop Oscar Romero’s Last Homily (Oct. 6, 2011).

[2]  Commission for the Truth for El Salvador, Report: From Madness to Hope: The 12-year war in El Salvador  at 127-31(March 15, 1993), http://www.derechos.org/nizkor/salvador/informes/truth.html%5B“Truth Commission Report”];Doe v. Saravia, 348 F. Supp.2d 1112, 1121-23(E.D. Cal. 2004)(Sararvia held liable to relative of Romero for $10 million of compensatory and punitive damages for crimes against humanity and extrajudicial killing for Saravia’s role in the assassination of Romero); Monsignor Romero v. El Salvador, Rep. No. 37/00 ¶¶ 53-54 (Inter-American Comm’n Human Rights, Case No. 11.481, April 13, 2000).

[3]  Truth Commission Report at 130. A Salvadoran newspaper recently reported that the Romero assassin was at the time a deputy sergeant of the Salvadoran National Guard and a member of the security team for former Salvadoran President Arturo Molina. (Valencia, Gabriela & David, The sniper who killed Romero was a former National Guard, Diario Co Latino (Sept. 9, 2011).

Oscar Romero’s Last Homily


Capilla de Hospital de la Divina Providencia
Capilla de Hospital de la Divina Providencia

At 6:00 p.m. on Monday, March 24, 1980, Monsignor Romero commenced his celebration of a memorial mass for the mother of the publisher and editor of a newspaper that was a voice for justice and human rights in El Salvador.  The service was held in the beautiful, intimate, modern chapel at a cancer hospital in San Salvador that was across the street from Romero’s small apartment.[1]

In what turned out to be his last homily, Romero lead the people in Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd . . . . Though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff–they comfort me.” Romero then read the gospel text for the service, John 12: 23-26:

“Jesus [said], ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified . . . . [U]nless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their own life lose it; those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.'”

Romero Mural @ His Apartment

Romero said, “[E]very Christian ought to want to live intensely. Many do not understand; they think Christianity should not be involved in such things. But, to the contrary, you have just heard in Christ’s gospel than one must not love oneself so much as to avoid getting involved in the risks of life that history demands of us, and that those who try to fend off the danger will lose their lives, while those who act out of love for Christ give themselves to the service of others will live. . . .”

“We know that every effort to better society, especially when injustice and sin are so ingrained, is an effort that God blesses, that God wants, that God demands of us. . . . [W]e must try to purify these ideals, Christianize them, clothe them with the hope of what lies beyond. That makes them stronger, because it gives us the assurance that all that we cultivate on earth, if we nourish it with Christian hope, will never be a failure. We will find it in a purer form in that kingdom where our merit will be in the labor that we have done here on earth.”

“Dear brothers and sisters,” Romero continued, “let us all view these matters at this historic moment with that hope, that spirit of giving and sacrifice. Let us all do what we can. We can all do something . . . . We know that no one can go on forever, but those who have put into their work a sense of very great faith, of love of God, of hope among human beings, find it all results in the splendors of a crown that is the sure reward of those who labor thus, cultivating truth, justice, love, and goodness on the earth. Such labor does not remain here below, but purified by God’s Spirit, is harvested for our reward.”

“This . . . Eucharist is just such an act of faith. To Christian faith at this moment the voice of diatribe appears changed for the body of the Lord, who offered himself for the redemption of the world, and in this chalice the wine is transformed into the blood that was the price of salvation. May this body immolated and this blood sacrificed for humans nourish us also, so that we may give our body and our blood to suffering and to pain–like Christ, not for self, but to bring about justice and peace for our people.”

[1] Oscar Romero, The Violence of Love: The pastoral Wisdom of Oscar Romero at 242 (Harper & Row 1988); James Brockman, The Word Remains: A Life of Oscar Romero at 219-20 (Orbis Books 1982); Oscar Romero, Voice of the Voiceless: The Four Pastoral Letters and Other Statements at 191-93 (Orbis Books 1985); James Brockman, The Church Is All of You: Thoughts of Oscar Romero at 110 (Winton Press 1984).