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Pope condemns priests and bishops who ‘defamed’ Oscar Romero

Oscar Romero was beatified in May (AP)

Pope Francis has strongly denounced the Catholic priests and bishops who “defamed” Archbishop Oscar Romero even after his murder in a campaign that delayed his beatification.

The Pope spoke off-the-cuff on Friday to a group of Salvadoran pilgrims who had travelled to Rome to thank Pope Francis for beatifying Salvadoran Oscar Romero, who is seen as a hero to the continent’s poor and oppressed.

Pope Francis said that Romero suffered martyrdom not just by his murder on March 24, 1980, but afterwards.

The Pope said: “I was a young priest then and I was a witness to this: he was defamed, calumnied and had dirt thrown on his name — his martyrdom continued even by his brothers in the priesthood and episcopate.”

He said Romero was “stoned with the hardest stone that exists in the world: the tongue.”

Romero was gunned down by right-wing death squads as he celebrated Mass in a hospital chapel in San Salvador. He had spoken out against repression by the army at the beginning of El Salvador’s 1980-1992 civil war between the right-wing government and leftist rebels, a conflict that killed nearly 75,000 people.

Romero’s sainthood case was held up by the Vatican, apparently due to opposition from some Latin American churchmen who feared his association with liberation theology would embolden the movement.

After a 35-year delay, Romero was beatified in May earlier this year.

Pope Francis, speaking to the pilgrims, said he hoped God would continue what Romero had hoped would come to El Salvador: “the happy moment when El Salvador’s terrible tragedy of suffering of so many of our brothers thanks to hatred, violence and injustice, disappears.”

In a message sent for the beatification, Pope Francis said Archbishop Romero “built the peace with the power of love, [and] gave testimony of the faith with his life”.

Cardinal Angelo Amato, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Saints’ Causes, who celebrated the beatification Mass, said that while those who persecuted him had died or are in obscurity, “the memory of Romero continues to live in the poor and the marginalised”.

His homilies often pleaded for better conditions for the poor, for a stop to the escalating violence in the country and for brotherhood among those whose divisions ultimately led to a 12-year conflict.