National Catholic Reporter

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Judge to investigate murder of Jesuits in El Salvador

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MADRID, Spain -- A Spanish judge has decided to open an investigation into the case of 14 members of the Salvadoran army accused of involvement in killing six Jesuit priests and two of their employees in 1989, during El Salvador's civil war.

High Court Judge Eloy Velasco also decided not to try former Salvadoran President Alfredo Cristiani, accused of concealment of the crime, because of insufficient evidence.

Last November, the Spanish Association for Human Rights and the San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability filed a lawsuit against the military officers and Cristiani based on the Spanish legal principle of universal jurisdiction for crimes against humanity.

In 1991 a Salvadoran court convicted two of the 14 accused army members of murder and conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism. Both were sentenced to 30 years in prison, but were released when the parliament approved a law granting them amnesty in 1993, one year after the war ended.

Velasco's decision was announced Jan. 13, nearly 20 years after the Nov. 16, 1989, massacre at Central American University in San Salvador.

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The Jesuit victims were Spanish Fathers Ignacio Ellacuria, rector of the university, Ignacio Martin-Baro, Segundo Montes, Juan Moreno, and Amando Lopez and Salvadoran Father Joaquin Lopez Lopez. Also killed were the Jesuits' housekeeper, Elba Ramos, and her teenage daughter, Celina.

Attackers targeted Father Ellacuria because of his role in promoting peace between the U.S.-supported military government and left-wing guerrilla groups and were told to leave no witnesses, according to a 1991 U.N.-sponsored report.

El Salvador's current president, Elias Antonio Saca, criticized Velasco's decision, saying that it did not contribute to the democratic development of El Salvador.

But in a Jan. 14 opinion piece published in the Spanish newspaper El Correo, Juan Jose Tamayo, director of the Ignacio Ellacuria Theology Department at Carlos III University in Spain, said the move is "a step toward hope that (the crimes) will not go unpunished."

He added that the victims died because of "the commitment of the Christian communities, priests and religious in favor of justice and peace."

Six priests were assassinated in El Salvador from 1977 to 1979, and then-Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador denounced what he saw as the persecution of the Catholic Church in his country. Archbishop Romero also asked the U.S. government to cut military aid to the Salvadoran government, which he accused of human rights violations. The archbishop was shot and killed as he celebrated Mass in 1980, the same year the civil war began.

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