Romero, Oscar Arnulfo (1917–1980)

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Romero, Oscar Arnulfo (1917–1980)

Oscar Arnulfo Romero (b. 15 August 1917; d. 24 March 1980), archbishop of El Salvador (1977–1980). Romero was born in Ciudad Barrios and originally apprenticed as a carpenter, but his early religious inclinations won him over and in 1931 he enrolled in San Miguel seminary. In 1937 he progressed to the National Seminary, then proceeded to Rome to study at the Gregorian University. He was ordained in 1942 and began a doctorate in ascetic theology, but World War II curtailed his studies. He returned to El Salvador and served his home parish until he was elevated to monsignor in 1967. Shortly thereafter, Romero was appointed to the National Bishops' Conference and quickly earned additional responsibilities, including auxiliary bishop (1970), editor of the archdiocesan newspaper Orientación (1971), bishop of Santiago de María (1974), and membership on the Pontifical Commission for Latin America (1975). Even at this late date, Romero still clung to a moderate, traditional interpretation of Catholic doctrines. He warned against the dangers of a politicized priesthood and instead advocated the higher ideals of brotherhood, faith, and charity. Although he frequently quoted the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, he refrained from mentioning those of the more radical conference of Catholic bishops at Medellín in 1968.

To the surprise of many, Romero was chosen over the equally qualified Arturo Rivera y Damas as archbishop of El Salvador in February 1977. The shy, retiring new archbishop faced growing tensions between church and state, and within the church itself. Shortly after his installation, Romero's close friend Father Rutilio Grande was murdered on his way to visit parishioners. When the government failed to investigate and instead stepped up its attacks on the Church by expelling several priests, Archbishop Romero withdrew his support for the government and refused to attend the presidential inauguration of Carlos Humberto Romero (no relation) in 1977. Despite the rising tide of violence, Romero still tried to distance the Church from the new liberation theology and denied the priests permission to participate in political organizations. As the situation deteriorated, Romero's position became untenable and the moderate archbishop metamorphosed into an impassioned crusader against the violation of human rights in El Salvador. He used his sermons to preach the equality and dignity of all peoples and set up a commission to monitor and document the abuses of power by governmental authorities.

For Romero's efforts the British Parliament nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. In February 1980 Romero angered the Vatican by speaking out against U.S. military aid to El Salvador, which he claimed would lead to further human rights abuses. On 24 March he was assassinated while saying evening mass. His death removed a powerful voice for peace in El Salvador and contributed to the bitterness of the struggle. Archbishop Romero remains a powerful symbol of the new direction of the Catholic Church in Latin America.

See alsoCatholic Church: The Modern Period .


Plácido Erdozain, Archbishop Romero: Martyr of Salvador (1981).

James R. Brockman, The Word Remains: A Life of Oscar Romero (1982).

Jesús Delgado, Oscar A. Romero: Biografía (1986).

Jon Sobrino, Archbishop Romero: Memories and Reflections (1960).

Additional Bibliography

Dennis, Marie, Renny Golden, and Scott Wright. Oscar Romero: Reflections on His Life and Writings. Mary-knoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2000.

Pelton, Robert S., Robert L. Ball, and Kyle Markham. Monsignor Romero: A Bishop for the Third Millennium. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2004.

                                          Karen Racine

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Romero, Oscar Arnulfo (1917–1980)

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