As cited in Tim's El Salvador Blog
As cited in Tim's El Salvador Blog
In which we ask: If a martyr is killed, does the killer’s actual identity matter for the purpose of raising the martyr to the honor of the altars? It matters in the case of Óscar Romero, according to Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chávez, a Salvadoran cleric familiar with Archbishop Romero’s beatification process. “When we were starting the process,” Bishop Rosa says, the Vatican “asked us three questions: who killed him, why, and the context in which he served as Archbishop of San Salvador.” He adds, “Who killed him was the only question we were unable to answer,” at the time. (G. Fajardo and F. Valencia, Msgr. Rosa Chávez asks Romero shooter to contribute to the truth, CO LATINO, September 17, 2011—in Spanish.)
New information published in El Salvador in the last days would answer that question, purporting to establish that National Guard Deputy Sargeant Marino Samayoa Acosta was the shadowy figure who pulled the trigger on that fateful evening of March 24, 1980, having been selected for the job by a man named Mario Molina, who was the son of Arturo Armando Molina, a Salvadoran army colonel who assumed the presidency under widespread allegations of fraud. The new information appears to complete the factual findings in Saravia v. Doe, a 2004 U.S. federal case in which Capt. Álvaro Saravia was found liable, in absentia, for his “role in coordinating and planning the assassination of Archbishop Romero,” and in a U.N. Truth Commission Report which found that, “Former Major Roberto D’Aubuisson gave the order to assassinate the Archbishop and gave precise instructions to members of his security service (including Saravia), acting as a ‘death squad’, to organize and supervise the assassination.”
But, why does the killer’s identity matter for purposes of canonization? The canon law requirements to establish a martyrdom can be boiled down to three elements: (1) a cruel or violent death; (2) that the victim freely accepted; (3) imposed out of hatred of the faith («odium fidei, uti fertur»). WOESTMAN, Canonization: Theology, History, Process 143 (St. Paul University, 2002). In the Romero case, the first two points are undisputed and the sticking point is «odium fidei», which happens to be the most important element. To some observers, the Romero assassination is factually indistinguishable from an ordinary political assassination, and church leaders complain that the lionization in some quarters of Archbishop Romero as a purely political hero does nothing to dispel that impression.
The Church recognizes that “the cultural contexts of martyrdom and the strategies” of the persecutors in modern times “seldom explicitly show their aversion to the Christian faith … but simulate different reasons, for example, of a political or social nature,” for their killings. (Pope Benedict XVI to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.) Nevertheless, it is still “necessary” to prove the element of «odium», “directly or indirectly but always in a morally certain way.” (Id.) The killer’s identity might help establish the existence of this «odium», since the question nowadays almost invariably turns on expert studies of the circumstances of the martyrdom. WOESTMAN, supra, 58. Presumably, the existence of hard, established facts would enable the experts to pin their hypotheses on solid foundations so that their conclusions are reliable and withstand scrutiny as well as the test of time. And this explains Bishop Rosa’s invitation to Romero’s killer to approach the Church and provide details of the plot. “I encourage this friend, this brother, that we should try to reach the end, for the good of his conscience. He needs to be at peace with himself and with God, and at peace with the nation,” he said.
“The Church has forgiven all, but the truth we cannot do without.”