Pope Francis decreed today that slain Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero was killed out of hatred for the faith, approving a martyrdom declaration that sets the stage for his beatification. Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador, was gunned down by right-wing death squads in 1980 while celebrating Mass. He had spoken out against repression by the Salvadoran army at the beginning of the country's 1980-1992 civil war between the right-wing government and leftist rebels. His sainthood cause had been held up by the Vatican for years out of concern at his perceived association with liberation theology, the Latin American-inspired Catholic theology advocating for the poor. But Francis "unblocked" the cause soon after being elected.
Unlike regular candidates for beatification, martyrs can reach the first step to possible sainthood without a miracle attributed to their intercession. A miracle is needed for canonization, however. Traditionally, the church has restricted the martyr designation to people who were killed out of hatred for the Catholic faith. One of the reasons Romero's case had lagged was over questions about whether he was killed for his politics in support of the poor or for his faith. The decree signed by Francis makes clear that Romero was a martyr in the classic sense, killed out of hatred for the faith. No date for the beatification has been set. (Read more martyrdom stories.)