05 September 2014

Sainthood isn't enough for Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero

When Pope Francis announced he was unblocking the canonization process for Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero, killed in 1980 by a death squad during his country's civil war, it was heartening and frustrating. Romero stood up to a murderous army on behalf of the poor in El Salvador. President Obama visited his tomb in 2011, and his statue stands on a wall of Westminster Abbey, among modern Christian martyrs including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Yet the archbishop's murderers remain free. Judges in El Salvador have said a controversial amnesty law forbids prosecuting war crimes, though the nation's Supreme Court is considering a challenge to that decision. Most notoriously, Romero's brother bishops, who might be expected to call out for justice, have dragged their feet or blocked progress toward legal redress for Romero's killing and the rest of El Salvador's wartime crimes.

"Sainthood, yes — for us he is already a saint," said a Salvadoran friend after he heard the pope's news about Romero. "But without going after the perpetrators, this will induce a form of amnesia, pushing away the violence while creating a kind of myth that serves the country." The perpetrators are alive, he pointed out, as are their financiers.