February 9, 2015

VATICAN CITY – After decades of debate within the Church, Pope Francis formally recognized that Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero was killed "in hatred of the faith" and not for purely political reasons.

Pope Francis signed the decree Feb. 3, recognizing as martyrdom the March 24, 1980, assassination of Romero in a San Salvador hospital chapel as he celebrated Mass.

The decree clears the way for Romero's beatification.

Romero's sainthood cause was opened at the Vatican in 1993. But it was delayed for years as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith studied his writings, amid wider debate over whether he had been killed for his faith or for taking political positions against Salvadoran government and against the death squads that were operating in his country.

As head of the San Salvadoran Archdiocese from 1977 until his death, his preaching grew increasingly strident in defence of the country's poor and oppressed.

Pope Benedict XVI told reporters in 2007 that the archbishop was "certainly a great witness of the faith" who "merits beatification, I do not doubt."

But he said some groups had complicated the sainthood cause by trying to co-opt the archbishop as a political figure.

Seven years later, Pope Francis – the first Latin American pope – told reporters that "for me, Romero is a man of God."

However, he said at the time, "the process must go ahead, and God must give his sign. If he wants to do so, he will."

Generally, a miracle after beatification of a martyr is still be needed for canonization.

The date for Romero's beatification was not announced immediately.