Pope Francis has decreed that the slain Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero died for his faith, paving the way for his beatification after being seen as put into the background due to the prelate's links to liberation theology.
Francis approved the decree during a meeting with the Vatican's saint-making body on February 3 at which he also gave the green light for the beatification of three other priests martyred in Peru.
L'Osservatore Romano newspaper reported that the Pope met Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, in private to authorize the beatification of the priests, whose martyrdoms had been confirmed.
Members of right-wing death squads assassinated Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador, shooting him while he was celebrating Mass in 1980. Romero had criticized repression mounted by the Salvadoran army at the start of the 12-year civil war between the government and leftist rebels.
Francis, the first Latin American pope, has been expected to untangle the sometimes circuitous process of declaring martyrs of the Catholic Church.
In particular, Romero's cause had been held up for years by the Vatican, fearing that his beatification might be perceived as a win for liberation theology, the Latin American-inspired Catholic theology promoting the cause of the poor.
While no date has been set on his beatification, Francis has made it clear he would not officiate at the beatification ceremony himself saying it was up to Amato to decide as to who would preside over the rites.
Martyrs can be considered for beatification even without a miracle attributed to their intercession, as their lives ended while promoting the faith. The church has been cautious in designating people killed due to their faith as martyrs because it presents contentious issues.
In the case of Romero, the nagging question on his case focused on whether he had been killed for his faith or for his politics of supporting the poor.
The February 3 decree indicated that Francis himself appeared convinced that Romero was "killed out of hatred for the faith."