Oscar Romero

Essay by Jack, March 2006

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Oscar Romero was a Salvadorian Roman Catholic prelate who was killed by right-wing assassins.

Romero was born in Ciudad Barrios, and was ordained into the Roman Catholic Church in 1942. A conservative, he was elected bishop in 1970. Seven years later, in February 1977, to the dismay of more progressive members of the Catholic Church, he was made Archbishop of San Salvador. In spite of his conservative views, he had already made clear the importance he attached to social justice. The right wing believed that the Catholic Church in El Salvador, and the Jesuits in particular, were involved in "Marxist subversion" on behalf of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front guerrilla army. Romero became steadily more sympathetic to the progressive point of view. This was the period in which the civil war in the country between the army and the FMLN guerrillas took a high toll on innocent victims, with the army and death squads acting with impunity.

The Church was by no means immune. Between 1977 and 1980, 6 priests were killed, 5 kidnapped and tortured, 9 fled the country, and 12 were forcibly expelled.

The Church found itself polarised by events, with the Archbishop adopting increasingly progressive positions, especially after the killing of a priest, Rutilio Grande, who was a close friend. Romero's Sunday sermons, detailing human rights violations, were broadcast throughout the country, having a notable effect in discrediting the government. His sermons and pastoral letters strongly supported the right of poor peasants to organise, although he consistently condemned the use of violence. He successfully mediated in a number of kidnappings.

He was himself murdered in March 1980 while offering Mass. His death had a major impact in the country as a whole, provoking a savage wave of repression on the part of the authorities. It also...