World

Pope Francis approves martyrdom for Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero

  • FILE - In this March 23, 1980, file photo, a nun plants a kiss on the forehead of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero of El Salvador at the Hospital of Divine Providence. Pope Francis decreed Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015, that the slain Salvadoran Archbishop was killed in 1980 out of hatred for his Catholic faith, approving a martyrdom declaration that sets the stage for his beatification. (AP Photo, File)

    FILE - In this March 23, 1980, file photo, a nun plants a kiss on the forehead of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero of El Salvador at the Hospital of Divine Providence. Pope Francis decreed Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015, that the slain Salvadoran Archbishop was killed in 1980 out of hatred for his Catholic faith, approving a martyrdom declaration that sets the stage for his beatification. (AP Photo, File)  (The Associated Press)

  • FILE - In this an undated file photo of Archbishop Oscar shows Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero who was gunned down while giving Mass in a San Salvador church March 24, 1980. Pope Francis decreed Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015, that the slain Salvadoran Archbishop was killed in 1980 out of hatred for his Catholic faith, approving a martyrdom declaration that sets the stage for his beatification.(AP Photo,File)

    FILE - In this an undated file photo of Archbishop Oscar shows Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero who was gunned down while giving Mass in a San Salvador church March 24, 1980. Pope Francis decreed Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015, that the slain Salvadoran Archbishop was killed in 1980 out of hatred for his Catholic faith, approving a martyrdom declaration that sets the stage for his beatification.(AP Photo,File)  (The Associated Press)

  • FILE - In this March 9, 2014, file photo, supporters of presidential candidate Salvador Sanchez Ceren, of the ruling Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), hold up an image of Oscar Arnulfo Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador who was assassinated during the country's civil war in the 1980's, as they celebrate after partial results were announced by election authorities in San Salvador, El Salvador. Pope Francis decreed Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015, that the slain Salvadoran Archbishop was killed in 1980 out of hatred for his Catholic faith, approving a martyrdom declaration that sets the stage for his beatification. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix,File)

    FILE - In this March 9, 2014, file photo, supporters of presidential candidate Salvador Sanchez Ceren, of the ruling Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), hold up an image of Oscar Arnulfo Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador who was assassinated during the country's civil war in the 1980's, as they celebrate after partial results were announced by election authorities in San Salvador, El Salvador. Pope Francis decreed Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015, that the slain Salvadoran Archbishop was killed in 1980 out of hatred for his Catholic faith, approving a martyrdom declaration that sets the stage for his beatification. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix,File)  (The Associated Press)

Pope Francis decreed Tuesday that slain Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero was killed out of hatred for the faith, approving a martyrdom declaration that sets the stage for his beatification.

Francis, the first Latin American pope, approved the decree honoring one of the heroes of Latin American Catholics at a meeting with the head of the Vatican's saint-making office.

Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador, was gunned down by right-wing death squads in 1980 while celebrating Mass. He had spoken out against repression by the Salvadoran army at the beginning of the country's 1980-1992 civil war between the right-wing government and leftist rebels.

His sainthood cause had been held up by the Vatican for years out of concern at his perceived association with liberation theology, the Latin American-inspired Catholic theology advocating for the poor.

But Francis "unblocked" the cause soon after being elected.

No date for the beatification has been set. Francis has all but ruled out celebrating it himself, saying recently that it would be up to the head of the saint-making office, Cardinal Angelo Amato, and the prelate who for decades has spearheaded Romero's cause, Monsignor Vincenzo Paglia, to decide who would get the honor.

Paglia was to meet with reporters Wednesday to discuss the historic case.

Unlike regular candidates for beatification, martyrs can reach the first step to possible sainthood without a miracle attributed to their intercession. A miracle is needed for canonization, however.

Traditionally, the church has restricted the martyr designation to people who were killed out of hatred for the Catholic faith. One of the reasons Romero's case had lagged was over questions about whether he was killed for his politics in support of the poor or for his faith.

The decree signed Tuesday by Francis makes clear that Romero was a martyr in the classic sense, killed out of hatred for the faith.