El Salvador Church Wants Romero Murder Case Reopened

El Salvador's Catholic Church called on Tuesday for the 1980 murder of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero to be reinvestigated, after a U.S. judge fined a former military captain for his role in the killing.

Maria Julia Hernandez, chief legal officer for the San Salvador Archdiocese, told a news conference that in light of the court hearing in California at the weekend, El Salvador should "reopen the case so it can be investigated."

Romero was assassinated for his outspoken defense of human rights. He broke the Church's silence during El Salvador's civil war by denouncing right-wing death squads who were murdering suspected supporters of Marxist rebels.

The archbishop was gunned down in his church after giving mass on March 24, 1980 and his killing came to symbolize the death squad terror of El Salvador's civil war.

The U.S. court ruling that Capt. Alvaro Rafael Saravia was liable for $10 million in damages was the first time anyone has been brought to trial for the murder of Romero, the leading voice for victims of government repression in the late 1970s.

Saravia, who is believed to have moved to the United States in the mid-1980s, did not answer the charges in court nor did he hire an attorney to represent him.

Peace accords ended the 12-year civil war in 1992 but El Salvador is still a deeply divided and violent society.

Evidence produced during the California hearing linked Saravia and former Maj. Roberto D'Aubuisson to Romero's assassination.

D'Aubuisson, who founded El Salvador's ruling ARENA party, died of cancer in 1992. He was widely believed to have been one of the organizers of the death squads.

The archbishop of San Salvador, Fernando Saenz Lacalle, said on Sunday that Saravia's conviction could help with the process of Romero's beatification, a possibility studied by the Vatican since 1994.

Human rights groups and Church officials in El Salvador say others should also be tried for crimes committed during the civil war that took at least 75,000 lives.