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Could politics taint slain Salvadoran Bishop Romero's path to sainthood?

Pope Francis today approved the beatification of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, murdered in 1980. In the lead-up to March national elections, politicians from opposing parties are drumming up memories - good and bad - of Romero.

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    Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador in this August 1977 photo.
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Editor's note: Pope Francis ruled Tuesday that Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was murdered by a right-wing death squad in 1980, died as a martyr and will be beatified. Beatification is the step before sainthood in the Catholic Church.

If Mr. Romero is to be declared a saint, a miracle will have to be attributed to him.

Romero was shot on March 24, 1980 while holding mass. No one was ever brought to justice for his killing, and soon after his death the country broke out into a 12-year civil war that killed an estimated 75,000 people. 

The process toward sainthood stalled under previous popes who saw him as too close to Liberation Theology, a radical movement that focused on helping the poor and fighting injustice.

Tim Muth, who writes a blog on El Salvador, noted earlier this year that the process toward beatification has created some peculiar politicking in the leadup to March 1 elections:

It was inevitable that the recent progress towards the beatification of slain Archbishop Oscar Romero by the Roman Catholic church would become embroiled in politics as El Salvador approaches national elections. I say it was "inevitable," because one of the main political parties, ARENA, was founded by Roberto D'Aubuisson, the man identified as the intellectual author of the assassination.  

The politics of Romero began when outgoing San Salvador Mayor Norman Quijano announced he would rename a street in the capital city after Mr. D'Aubuisson. This generated an outcry of protest, leading some to speculate that Mr. Quijano had taken the step to spite the party who had pushed him out of the running to return as mayor. The ruling FMLN denounced the plan and attempted to link it to [ARENA] party leadership. 
Quijano was replaced as an ARENA candidate by Edwin Zamora.  Mr. Zamora has said that if he's elected mayor of San Salvador, he would erect a monument to Oscar Romero in the capital.  

The political leadership of ARENA also announced to the media that it was backing Zamora's proposal for a Romero monument and plaza, and stated that the martyred bishop was an important historic and religious leader in the country. Jorge Velado, part of ARENA's top leadership, lamented hypocritically, that the beatification of Romero was being used by people for political ends.

Meanwhile Roberto D'Aubuisson, Jr., is running for mayor of nearby Santa Tecla. In an interview, he said the assassination of Romero (for which the United Nations's Truth Commission pinned responsibility on the candidate's father) was a "horrific" event. But he said that it was also "horrific" for witnesses to blame his father when his father was not there to defend himself. The mayoral candidate defended Quijano's proposal to rename a street for the elder D'Aubuisson, because his father had been the president of the National Assembly in 1983 when the country adopted the present Constitution. He asserted that it was common for important political figures such as Schafik Handal and Domingo Monterrosa (military commander of the massacre at El Mozote) to have public spaces named for them.

Despite the amount of hot-air blowing around these issues, I don't think it swings votes. Salvadorans know the histories of their political parties and have already made up their minds as to whether that history is important or not.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of Latin America bloggers. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here.

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