El Salvador’s Supreme Court Invalidates Salvadoran Amnesty Law

On July 13, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of El Salvador decided, 4 to 1, that the country’s amnesty law of 1993 was unconstitutional. This post will examine that decision and a subsequent post will discuss the impact of that decision on the pending criminal case in Spain regarding the 1989 murders of the Jesuit priests in El Salvador.

 The Court’s Decision.[1]

The Chamber held that the country’s amnesty law of 1993 was unconstitutional because it was “contrary to the access to justice” and the “protection of fundamental rights” as impeding the state from fulfilling its obligation to investigate, try and punish grave violations of those rights. Indeed, the court said the government has an obligation to “investigate, identify and sanction the material and intellectual authors of human rights crimes and grave war crimes” in its civil war and to provide reparations to victims.[2] The court also suggested that prosecutors begin with about 30 cases highlighted by a U.N. Truth Commission in March 1993.[3] The cases include massacres, assassinations and kidnappings by combatants from both the armed forces and the guerrilla army called the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). One of the most prominent was the 1989 murders of the Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter.

The court’s announcement of its decision stated that the 1992 Peace Accords ending the civil war had contained no provision for an amnesty; that the country’s National Assembly had no power to grant an amnesty to persons who had committed crimes against humanity or war crimes constituting grave violations of human rights and that its constitution and international law of human rights required the conclusion of invalidity.

The court also stated that the crimes against humanity during the civil war were not individual and isolated acts, but the result of guidelines and orders issued by organized apparatuses of power with hierarchies of command.  This implies criminal responsibility of the direct actors, those who gave the orders for the crimes and those commanders who failed to countermand the orders and thereby failed to exercise control over the hierarchies.

Much to the surprise of this blogger as a retired U.S. attorney, one of the Chamber’s four judges in this very case, Florentine Menendez, made a public statement about the decision. He said, “We’re not raising hatred or reopening wounds,” but rather emphasizing “the strength of the constitution and the right to life and justice” for the victims. The decision rescues “the jurisprudence of the Inter-American system of human rights protection to heal the wounds of the past and finally close the page and get a national reconciliation.”

Positive Reactions to the Decision.[4]

The next day the decision was celebrated at a ceremony in San Salvador’s Cuscatlan Park, the site of a 275-foot granite wall etched with the names of 30,000 civilians killed in the country’s civil war and the locations of nearly 200 massacres committed between 1970 and 1991. Below are photographs of David Morales,El Salvador’s human rights ombudsman, who made remarks that day, and of part of the granite wall.

David Morales
David Morales
Cucatlan Park
Cucatlan Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

At this celebration, David Morales said, “If prosecutors and judges are willing to comply with the ruling, it will generate for the first time in El Salvador the first glimmers of reconciliation.” He added that many Latin American countries have already abolished their amnesty laws and begun to prosecute crimes dating to the civil wars and military dictatorships of the late 20th century.

Benjamin Cuellar, former director of the human rights institute at the University of Central America (UCA) and one of the petitioners in the lawsuit, said, “This is the first step that will take El Salvador to true reconciliation; so that the institutions work and bring to justice those who commit crimes, regardless of who they are.”

UCA, the home of the murdered Jesuit priests, stated, “The majority of the victims are more noble than the victimizers.   They do not want vengeance, they want the injustice to be recognized.   And the State is obliged to honor them.  It is time to put the victims in the center.   The new phase that is opened for the country is positive, it means an advance for democracy and justice, and constitutes a late but just recognition for those who had been disrespected in their memory and in their pain.”

The Center for Justice and Accountability, which has been involved in various Salvadoran human rights cases, including the Spanish case regarding the murder of the Jesuit priests, said, “Today’s decision marks a moment many of us have hoped for, for a long time, as we struggled by the victims’ side. The victims have been demanding justice since the peace was signed and the brave truth commission report was published. The amnesty law passed only seven days after was a betrayal to the victims’ hopes and the whole peace process. With it, justice was excluded forever. Today’s decision brings back hope for investigation and prosecution both inside and outside the country.”

A group of independent United Nations human rights experts declared: “This historic decision for the country brings hope to victims and confidence in the legal system…. More than twenty years after the end of the conflict, this decision will restore the fundamental rights of victims to justice and full reparations.”

Amnesty International praised the decision: “Today is an historic day for human rights in El Salvador. By turning its back on a law that has done nothing but let criminals get away with serious human rights violations for decades, the country is finally dealing with its tragic past.”

Another voice of support for the decision came in a New York Times editorial calling it “ a remarkable ruling that opens the door for relatives of victims of war crimes to hold torturers and killers accountable.” “However,” the editorial continued, “there appears to be little political will in El Salvador to revisit a painful chapter of its history in courtrooms. Politicians across the political spectrum have questioned the viability of war crimes tribunals at a time when the country’s judicial institutions are overwhelmed by endemic gang violence.”  Nevertheless, the Times suggested that El Salvador should create “a prosecution unit and gives it the tools and independence to pursue the most emblematic cases of the conflict” like the El Mozote Massacre,” which has been discussed in prior posts.

Negative Reactions to the Decision.

The lack of political will referenced in the Times editorial can be seen in the country’s President, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, a member of the FLMN, asserted that his government had always been committed to the restoration of the victims of the war and to building a culture committed to human rights.   However, he said the court’s decision did not meet “the real problems of the country and far from solving the daily problems of Salvadorans, worsens them.  Judgments of the Constitutional Chamber ignore or fail to measure the effects on our living together in society, and do not contribute to strengthening institutionality.”

Another FLMN leader had a similar reaction. The former president of the National Assembly, Siegfried Reyes, said the decision was “surprising and seeks to weaken and hit the governance and hit the security plans that the government is implementing effectively.”

The country’s Minister of Defense, David Munguia Payés, asserted that the decision was a “political error” and would be a setback to the process of pacification which had occurred since the end of the civil war.”  He openly worried that the ruling would turn into a “witch hunt.”

Mauricio Ernesto Vargas, a retired general who represented the armed forces in the peace negotiations, said the court’s ruling could intensify political polarization in a country with no shortage of problems: a gang-violence epidemic, a migration crisis, crop failures and economic stagnation.

 The country’s Attorney General, Douglas Melendez, had a more nuanced view. He said, “We respect from the institutional point of view this ruling. We will do what we have to do, we will fulfill our constitutional responsibilities.”

The conservative political party ARENA (founded by a leader of the death squads in the 1970s and 1980s, and in control of the government when atrocities like the massacre of the Jesuits occurred and the authors of the amnesty law) published an official statement urging respect for the court’s decisions, but also noting that the decisions would present challenges for the process of reconciliation and the strengthening of democracy and institutions.

Now we will have to see whether this decision leads to any Salvadoran investigations and prosecutions for the serious human rights crimes of its civil war and to a resumption of Spain’s criminal case regarding the 1989 murders of the Jesuit priests. (The latter subject will be covered in a subsequent post.)

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[1] El Salvador Supreme Court (Constitutional Chamber), Press Release (July 13, 2016), http://static.ow.ly/docs/20.%20Comunicado%2013-VII-2016%20Ley%20de%20amnist%C3%ADa_50Yr.pdf; Post war 1993 amnesty law declared unconstitutional, Tim’s El Salvador Blog (July 13, 2016), http://luterano.blogspot.com/2016/07/post-war-1993-amnesty-law-declared.html; Malkin & Palumbo, Salvadoran Court Overturns Wartime Amnesty, Paving Way for Prosecutions, N.Y. Times (July 14, 2016); Maslin, El Salvador strikes down amnesty for crimes during its civil war, Wash. Post (July 14, 2016), https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/el-salvador-strikes-down-amnesty-for-crimes-during-its-civil-war/2016/07/14/5eeef2ec-49bf-11e6-8dac-0c6e4accc5b1_story.html.

[2] Prior posts have discussed the Amnesty Law: International Criminal Justice: El Salvador’s General Amnesty Law and Its Impact on the Jesuits Case, dwkcommentaries.com (June 11, 2011),  https://dwkcommentaries.com/2011/06/11/international-criminal-justice-el-salvadors-general-amnesty-law-and-its-impact-on-the-jesuits-caseEl Salvador’s Current Controversy Over Its General Amnesty Law and Supreme Court, dwkcommentaries.com (June 16, 2011), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2011/06/16/el-salvadors-current-controversy-over-its-general-amnesty-law-and-supreme-court; The El Mozote Massacre: The Truth Commission for El Salvador and the Subsequent General Amnesty Law and Dismissal of the Criminal Case, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 13, 2012), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2012/12/13/the-el-mozote-massacre-the-truth-commission-for-el-salvador-and-the-subsequent-salvadoran-general-amnesty-law-and-dismissal-of-criminal-case. It should be noted, however, that U.S. federal courts have held that the General Amnesty Law is limited to Salvadoran judicial proceedings and thus does not bar U.S. civil lawsuits for money damages against Salvadoran defendants. (El Salvador’s General Amnesty Law in U.S. Federal Courts, dwkcommentaries.com (June 14, 2011), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2011/06/14/el-salvadors-general-amnesty-law-in-u-s-federal-court-cases.

[3] Prior posts have discussed the Truth Commission: International Criminal Justice: The Jesuits Case in the Truth Commission for El Salvador, dwkcommentaries.com (June 9, 2011), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2011/06/09/international-criminal-justice-the-jesuits-case-in-the-truth-commission-for-el-salvador; The Salvadoran Truth Commission’s Investigation of the 1980 Murders of the Four Churchwomen, dwkcommentaries (Dec. 19, 2011), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2011/12/19/the-salvadoran-truth-commissions-investigation-of-the-murders-of-the-four-american-churchwomen; The El Mozote Massacre: The Truth Commission for El Salvador and the Subsequent General Amnesty Law and Dismissal of the Criminal Case, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 13, 2012), https://dwkcommentaries.com/2012/12/13/the-el-mozote-massacre-the-truth-commission-for-el-salvador-and-the-subsequent-salvadoran-general-amnesty-law-and-dismissal-of-criminal-case.

[4] Thanks for Tim’s El Salvador Blog (http://luterano.blog spot.com) for much of the information on the reactions to the Chamber’s decision.  David Morales: The sentence “is a tool of greater scope to demand justice, DiarioCoLatino (July 14, 2016) http://www.diariocolatino.com/david-morales-la-sentencia-es-una-herramienta-de-mayores-alcances-para-exigir-justicia; Dalton, Declared unconstitutional the amnesty in El Salvador, El Pais (July 14, 2016) http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2016/07/15/america/1468541983_506876.html.

 

 

 

 

Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero To Be Beatified on May 23, 2015

This Wednesday (March 11th) the Roman Catholic Church announced that the beatification of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero will take place this May 23rd. The ceremony will be in Plaza Divino Salvador del Mundo, in the country’s capitol of San Salvador. Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Church’s Congregation for Saints’ Causes, will celebrate the Mass. [1]

Archbishop Oscar Romero
Archbishop                        Oscar Romero
Plaza El Salvador del Mundo (with Romero statue)
Plaza Divino Salvador del Mundo (with Romero statue)

The announcement was made by Italian Bishop Vincenzo Paglia, the Roman Catholic Church’s chief promoter of the Archbishop’s sainthood cause, at a news conference Wednesday (March 11) in the Hall of Honor of El Salvador’s Presidential Palace. Present were the country’s President, Salvador Sanchez Ceren; Chancellor Hugo Martinez; the Archbishop of the City of San Salvador, Monsignor José Luis Escobar Alas; and Apostolic Nuncio, Leon Kalenga.

AnnBeatification

After looking at a portrait of Romero in the Hall of Honor, Monsignor Paglia said that this beatification is an extraordinary gift for the whole church in the world and especially for all El Salvador, because “Romero from heaven has become a good shepherd and today “Blessed.” This is a “time of joy and celebration. How not to recognize that the martyrdom of Archbishop Romero has given strength to many Salvadoran families who lost relatives and friends during the war.” Paglia stressed that the symbolism of the death of Monsignor Romero “has made him an eloquent witness of love for the poor that knows no limits. I think we have a protector in heaven, a protector for everyone, but especially the poor and humble in this country that has given the world and the Church a big child in love as Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero.” (Photo has President Ceren (2d from left) and Bishop Paglia (2d from right).)

In response Present Ceren said, “Through his faith and work for the neediest people, Romero can inspire a new world of hope and optimism. This beatification also becomes a miracle to El Salvador, because it allows us, from his thoughts, to unite the country and face the new challenges we have. No doubt if Monsignor were still alive, he would help us join hands to bring peace to our family.” The President also said the country is committed to further developing and disseminating the thought of the Salvadoran martyr. “Monsignor Romero is a child who exalts this country. His work and doctrine has reached far corners of the world and has turned his life into a hope for humanity.”

The next day, Archbishop Paglia celebrated a mass of thanksgiving at Romero’s tomb in the Crypt of the Metropolitan Cathedral. In his homily Paglia urged everyone to continue Romero’s example of seeking justice. “Monsignor Romero continues preaching to us, he tells us that we need to hear the word of God, which means: love without limits. Romero is a beautiful stone that is built in heaven, which is why from now on we must speak with Romero, as a father and pastor,”

“Today Romero speaks louder than before. Romero does not need to be beatified, but the world needs to see witnesses like Monsignor Romero, because it is his example that we must imitate.This is the deeper significance of the beatification.”

Paglia also said Father Rutilio Grande was another character the world needs, because he was also on the side of the poor and denounced the injustices social that once were in the country. [2]

Many believe the March 11th date of the announcement is significant as Grande was murdered on March 12, 1977, and as Paglia in February announced that the Vatican also had opened a sainthood process for Grande. “It is impossible to know Romero without knowing Rutilio Grande,” Paglia said then.

Carlos X, the author of the SuperMartyrio blog devoted to the canonization of Romero, opined that the date of May 23 (Pentecost Eve), is significant “as a reflection on Romero’s death, as a retrospective on his ministry as a bishop, and as a meditation on the great charge that Romero sought to fulfill” for the following reasons:

  • “First, Romero died during Lent and was buried on Palm Sunday.  It seems sadly and sweetly fitting that he should return after Easter, resurrected not only in his people but in his Church, in which he will be raised to the honor of its altars.”
  • “Second, this Pentecost will be the 40th anniversary of Romero’s first pastoral letter, “The Holy Spirit in the Church,” issued in May 1975 while he was Bishop of Santiago de Maria.  Many will want to read that pastoral letter; they will find that it serves as an apt road map for the bishop that was Oscar Romero, and that he was faithful to its most fervent objectives.”
  • “Finally, Pentecost is the inspiration for the Second Vatican Council, and the Latin American bishops’ synods at Medellín (1968) and Puebla (1979), which guided Romero’s ministry.  It is impossible to read Romero’s episcopate but through the prism of these modern ‘Cenacles.’”

As a Protestant Christian of Presbyterian persuasion, I was baffled by the Roman Catholic Church’s concept of beatification. Research disclosed that beatification is a necessary condition for someone subsequently to be recognized as a saint, “a member of the Church [who] has been assumed into eternal bliss and may be the object of general veneration. A saint is also a person of remarkable holiness who lived a life of heroic virtue, assisted by the Church, during their pilgrimage on earth.”

Upon beatification, an individual can be called “blessed” and venerated by a particular region or group of people with whom the person holds special importance. Beatification usually requires evidence of one miracle (except in the case of martyrs). Since miracles are considered proof that the person is in heaven and can intercede for us, the miracle must take place after the candidate’s death and as a result of a specific petition to the candidate. Because Pope Francis confirmed the Church’s finding that Romero was a martyr, there was no need for proof of a miracle for his beatification, but evidence of a miracle will be necessary for the Church to canonize Romero as a saint.

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[1] Falasca, Oscar Romero will be blessed May 23, Avvenire.it (Mar. 11, 2015); Romero will be beatified in May, SuperMartyrio (Mar. 11, 2015); McElwee, Slain Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero to be beatified May 23, Nat’l Catholic Reporter (Mar. 11, 2015); “The son of a small country in Central America is now placed among the blessed:” Vincenzo Paglia, DiarioCoLatino (Mar. 12, 2015); Vincenzo Paglia: Pope Francis calls us to imitate Romero, DiarioCoLatino (Mar. 12, 2015). There are many posts to this blog about Romero, including Pope Francis’ urging a quick beatification for Romero, Francis’ confirming martyrdom for Romero and additional details about that confirmation.

[2] In 2000 I attended a memorial mass in El Salvador for Rutilio Grande, as reported in a prior post.

 

 

Pope Francis Urges Swift Beatification of Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero

Archbishop Oscar Romero
Archbishop        Oscar Romero

On March 24, 1980, Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador, was assassinated while saying mass at a chapel in that city because of his preaching the Gospel and denouncing the Salvadoran regime’s violations of the human rights of his people.

I have been hoping that the Roman Catholic Church officially would recognize him as a saint, something many people in El Salvador and around the world, including this Protestant Christian, already have done unofficially. [1]

 

Now over 34 years later, on August 18, 2014, Pope Francis said that Romero’s beatification (one of the Church’s preconditions for sainthood) [2] should happen swiftly. That was the conclusion drawn by many from the Pope’s answer to a journalist’s question at an informal press conference on the papal plane’s return flight to Rome after the papal visit to South Korea.[3] Here is that answer in the Vatican’s official English translation:

Pope Francis & Journalists, August 18, 2014 (Photo--Daniel Dal Zennaro/European Pressphoto Agency)
Pope Francis & Journalists, August 18, 2014 (Photo–Daniel Dal Zennaro/European Pressphoto Agency)
  • “The process [for the beatification of Romero] was at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, blocked “for prudential reasons”, so they said.  Now it is unblocked.  It has been passed to the Congregation for Saints.  And it is following the usual procedure for such processes.  It depends on how the postulators move it forward.   This is very important, to do it quickly.”
  • “What I would like is a clarification about martyrdom in odium fidei, whether it can occur either for having confessed the Creed or for having done the works which Jesus commands with regard to one’s neighbour.  And this is a task for the theologians.  They are studying it.  Because after him [Romero] there is Rutilio Grande [[4]] and there are others too; there are others who were killed, but none as prominent as Romero.  You have to make this distinction theologically.”
  • “For me Romero is a man of God, but the process has to be followed, and the Lord too has to give His sign…  If He wants to do it, He will do it.  But right now the postulators have to move forward because there are no obstacles.”

Analyzing this statement first requires an examination of the Roman Catholic Church’s structure and procedures regarding beatification and of the history of the “cause” for such status for Romero.

First, Pope Francis’s recent statement implicitly says that he does not have the authority to make the beatification decision himself. Instead, under the Church’s Apostolic Constitution (Pastor Bonus or Good Pastor) two parts of the Roman Curia (the Congregation for the Cause of Saints (CCS) and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF)) have to make certain decisions before a recommendation for beatification comes to the Pope for approval or disapproval. [5]

Before the CCS enters the picture, however, a candidate for beatification must be recommended for that honor by the bishop of the diocese where the individual died after a thorough investigation (initiated only after at least five years after the individual’s death) establishing his or her theological virtues (faith, hope and charity) and cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude) and the performance of a “miracle” (an event that can be witnessed by the senses but is in apparent contradiction to the laws of nature). If the candidate is a martyr, however, a miracle is not required for beatification, but is for sainthood. (Emphasis added.)

The bishop’s conclusion and documentation then is submitted to the CCS, which has 34 members (cardinals, archbishops and bishops), one promotor of the faith (prelate theologian), five relators, 83 consultants and a staff of 23; it is headed by Prefect Cardinal Angelo Amato. The CCS is charged with conducting a rigorous examination into the life and writings of an individual to determine if he or she demonstrates a heroic level of virtue or suffered martyrdom. A CCS member is appointed Postulator by the CCS to oversee all aspects of the cause at the congregational level. With the assistance of a member of the congregational staff (a Relator), the Postulator prepares the “Positio” or summary of the documentation relating to the merits of the individual’s cause. The “Positio” is then subjected to an examination by nine theologians, and if a majority of them view the “Positio” positively, it then goes to examination by cardinals and bishops who are members of the CCS. If the latter group is favorable to the cause, the head or “Prefect” of the CCS presents the entire cause to the Pope. If the Pope then approves the cause, he authorizes the CCS to draft an appropriate decree, which eventually is read and promulgated.

Apparently during this process the CCS may submit certain issues to the CDF, which has 23 members (cardinals, archbishops and bishops), 28 consultants and a staff of 47; the CDF is headed by Prefect Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller. Under the previously mentioned Apostolic Constitution the CDF  is charged “to protect and safeguard the doctrine on faith and morals . . . in things that touch this matter in any way” (Art. 48) and to help “the bishops, individually or in groups, in carrying out their office as authentic teachers and doctors of the faith, [including] the duty of promoting and guarding the integrity of that faith” (Art. 50). I assume this must have happened because the Pope stated that the CDF had blocked the beatification process for lack of proof of Romero’s ‘”prudence,” one of the required cardinal virtues for such status.

Second, the history of the process for Romero’s beatification[6] sheds light on Pope Francis’ recent remarks:

  • The process was started in 1993 with the Archbishop of San Salvador’s announcement of his intent to proceed and with the CCS’ permission to proceed. By November 1996 the archdiocesan investigation of the cause was complete when the Archbishop approved the investigation’s findings and sent documentation to the CCS, and by 1998 all the necessary records had been submitted to the Congregation.
  • In 2000, pursuant to an objection by Colombian Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, who expressed concerns about Romero’s association with Liberation Theology, Romero’s cause was investigated by the . . . CDF,” then headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later was elected Pope Benedict XVI. Between 2000 and 2005, the CDF studied the writings, sermons, and speeches of Archbishop Romero to ensure that they were free from doctrinal error. In 2001, Bishop Vincenzio Paglia, the initial Postulator of Romero’s cause, held a special congress in Italy, bringing together experts and theologians to try to determine if Archbishop Romero’s actions and written and spoken words were within the authorized teaching of the Church. Eventually the CDF concluded that “Romero was not a revolutionary bishop, but a man of the Church, the Gospel and the poor.”
  • Subsequently the cause was again referred to the CDF apparently on complaint by certain Latin American cardinals who demanded a study of Romero’s concrete pastoral actions. Thereafter the cause apparently was neglected and stalled.
  • Shortly after the inauguration of Pope Francis in March 2013,  Postulator Paglia publicly reported that the Pope in a private audience on April 20, 2013, told him that the Pope was authorizing the beatification process to proceed. Paglia said that the process had been “unblocked.”

The Pope’s recent comment that at some point the CDF had concluded that Romero lacked “prudence” has been interpreted as concern that Romero had Marxist ideas. Another commentator stated, the CDF “had questioned whether the Salvadoran prelate qualified as a martyr, since his assassins clearly had political motives. Was the archbishop killed because of his faith, or because of his political involvements? And were his political activities entirely inspired by his faith? Those were the questions that complicated the cause.”

Third, the Pope said the blocking of the process by the CDF had been removed and there were now no doctrinal problems, but it is not totally clear when, why and how that happened. Apparently, as just stated, it was a decision by Pope Francis himself in April 2013, but details are lacking.

Fourth, the Pope said that he wanted clarification on whether martyrdom in ‘odium fidei’ (out of hate for the faith) is for confessing the [Roman Catholic] credo or for performing the works that Jesus commands us to do for our neighbors and that theologians were now studying this issue. It, however, was unclear as to whether this was being done by the CDF or the CCS. In either event, another commentator said that official martyrdom traditionally has been limited to those who were killed as persecution for their Catholicism. Indeed, this is the traditional test known as ‘odium fidei’ (out of hate for the Catholic faith) while death for the cause of Christian justice—sometimes called “odium iustitiae”— is currently a subsidiary test and potentially could be established as an alternative formula to prove martyrdom.

Fifth, the Pope’s recent comments made it very apparent that he supported Romero’s beatification. He called Romero “a man of God” and said that it was “very important, [for the postulators] to do it [their work] quickly.” I also thought the Pope impliedly endorsed the idea that martyrdom includes performing “the works which Jesus commands with regard to one’s neighbour“ (“odium iustitiae”), which is exactly what Romero was doing and why he was assassinated.

For example, Julian Filochowski, chairman of the Archbishop Romero Trust, said the Pope’s recent comment was “reaffirming in public what he’s said in private: that he hopes this process for the beatification of Romero will be dealt with and come to a speedy conclusion.” Filochowski also said, “Archbishop Romero was never the leftist some supposed him to be. His theology was essentially the theology of the Beatitudes [the teachings that begin with ‘blessed are the poor in spirit.’]”

Indeed, during his brief time as Pope, Francis has repeatedly discussed Romero and his beatification with visitors. Just after his inauguration, he “received several guests who took up Romero with the new pope, including the Anglican archbishop of York, who handed Pope Francis a “Romero Cross.”  Francis met twice with the Argentine Nobel Peace laureate Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, and they discussed Romero and the desirability of a positive result in his canonization process.  “[That] same topic . . . took center stage in . . . meetings with then Salvadoran president Mauricio Funes, with his successor Salvador Sánchez Cerén, . . . with the President of the Central American Parliament, who Francis assured that the canonization is ‘on the right path’” and when this May the Pope met with a delegation of Salvadoran bishops. Moreover, Romero’s message seems to fit the themes of Francis’ papacy, especially the emphasis on the poor from a son of the Latin American church.[7]

Sixth, Francis’ comment that “Romero is a man of God” should be particularly well-received in San Salvador, where the Church has just launched a “Romero Triennium”—a three year program of commemorations leading to the 100th anniversary of Romero’s birth in 2017.  The theme for the first year is “Romero, Man of God.” Some suggest that the year 2017 would be a very opportune time for Pope Francis to go to El Salvador and proclaim Romero as “Santo Romero.”

Indeed, many in El Salvador were jubilant over the Pope’s statement. Said President Salvador Sanchez Ceren,”We are confident that in this land where Monsignor Romero lived, a determination of his martyrdom will receive his blessings.” The Minister of Foreign Affairs of El Salvador, Hugo Martínez, added, “We are delighted by the interest and determination of His Holiness, Pope Francisco, to advance the process of beatification of Archbishop Romero our spiritual leader.”[8]

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[1] I have written many posts about Romero, some of which have concerned the beatification process.

[2] Beatification is part of the Roman Catholic Church’s process towards sainthood. It recognizes the person as someone who has lived a faithful or holy life. After beatification they are known as ‘blessed’ and can be venerated by Catholics but, unlike canonization, it is not required. Upon a grant of beatification status, a separate process for canonization commences.

[3] This discussion of the Pope’s recent comments is based upon the following: Francis: “Romero is a man of God,” Super Martyrio (Aug. 18, 2014); Pope Francis’ Flights Yield Candid Conversations, N. Y. Times (Aug. 20, 2014); Palumbo & Cave, An Obstacle to Honoring an Archbishop Is Removed (N.Y. Times (Aug. 20, 2014); Borkett-Jones, Should Romero Be Canonized? Pope Francis Seems To Think so . . . ., Christianity Today (Aug. 19, 2014); Pope lifts beatification ban on Salvadoran Oscar Romero, BBC (Aug. 19, 2014); Lawler, The cause for beatification of Archbishop Romero: BBC botched the story, Catholic Culture (Aug. 19, 2014).

[4] Rutilio Grande was a Salvadoran priest and a friend of Romero who was murdered in 1978 for his vocal advocacy and actions to support the interests of the poor people of his country. In May 2013 Pope Francis reportedly told Salvadoran President Funes that Grande also should be beatified.

[5] This account of the two congregations is based upon the English language summary by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Amplification and correction, especially on this account, from others more knowledgeable on this subject would be greatly appreciated.

[6] This summary of the history is based upon Pope Greenlights Romero Beatification, Super Martyrio (April 21, 2013); Who “Blocked” Romero’s Cause, Super Martyrio (April 29, 2013); Clear path for Romero at CCS, Super Martyrio (Nov. 22, 2013); New push for Archbishop Romero, Super Martyrio (April 25, 2014); Saint Romero in two strokes, Super Martyrio (May 5, 2014); Front row with Francis, Super Martyrio (May 30, 2014); Romero in the age of Francis, Super Martyrio (June 29, 2014); Francis: “Romero is a man of God, Super Martyrio (Aug. 18, 2014). Super Martyrio is a blog created and maintained by a Salvadoran-American lawyer in California to follow news about Romero in support of the cause for Romero’s beatification and canonization. Muchas gracias!

[7] Before becoming Pope, Sr. Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Archbishop of Buenos Aires and as Cardinal made statements and attended events honoring Romero. In addition, Francis’ two papal predecessors have made similar comments. Saint John Paul II discussed Archbishop Romero in seven different public speeches/audiences.  The most famous of these was a 1983 mass in San Salvador where he called Romero a “zealous pastor, whom love of God and service of brethren drove to surrender his life in a violent manner.”  Saint Benedict XVI spoke about Romero during three different public events, including an in-flight press conference after a 2007 trip to Brazil, during which he said,  That Romero as a person merits beatification, I have no doubt … Archbishop Romero was certainly an important witness of the faith, a man of great Christian virtue who worked for peace and against the dictatorship, and was assassinated while celebrating Mass. Consequently, his death was truly ‘credible’, a witness of faith.” 

[8] Jubilation in El Salvador by Pope announcement on beatification of Archbishop Romero, La Pagina (Aug. 19, 2014).