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by Thomas Reese, S.J., NCR

The decision of Pope Francis to designate Archbishop Oscar Romero a martyr comes after decades of controversy and debate within the church.

romeroThe archbishop was assassinated while saying Mass in 1980 just days after he had told Salvadoran soldiers to disobey their superiors if they were ordered to attack innocent civilians. The Salvadoran civil war (1979-92) would eventually claim some 75,000 lives.

When he was first appointed archbishop in 1977, he was considered a conservative who would not rock the boat. Seeing how his people and his priests were treated by the military changed him.

“After two years as archbishop of San Salvador, Romero counted 30 lost priests – killed, expelled or forced to flee from death.” Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Vatican Council for the Family and postulator of the cause for the beatification of Romero, told a Vatican press conference on Feb. 4, “The death squads killed scores of catechists from the base communities, and many faithful disappeared from these communities.”

Three weeks after Romero’s installation, his friend, Jesuit Fr. Rutilio Grande, was assassinated. After the Jesuit’s death, the archbishop became an outspoken defender of human rights and the poor, and frequently denounced abuses by the military….

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