VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis has decreed that an American religious brother, James Miller, was killed out of hatred for the Catholic faith during Guatemala's civil war and can be beatified.
Miller is the second American slain in Guatemala to move a step closer to possible sainthood in recent years. The Rev. Stanley Rother, who was gunned down during the Guatemalan conflict in 1981, was beatified as a martyr in his native Oklahoma last year.
The Vatican said Thursday that Francis approved a decree recognizing that Miller, from Stevens Point, Wisconsin, died as a martyr on Feb. 13, 1982, in Huehuetenango, Guatemala. The 37-year-old Miller had been working with indigenous youths as a member of the De La Salle Christian Brothers when he was killed by three masked men.
No one was ever arrested in the slaying. Miller's fellow brothers reported receiving warnings that Guatemala's armed forces intelligence unit, the G-2 death squad, was looking for them.
A U.N. truth commission determined that some 245,000 people were killed or disappeared during Guatemala's 1960-1996 civil war, which pitted right-wing, U.S.-backed governments against leftist guerrillas and indigenous peoples. The vast majority of the killings were attributed to the army or to pro-government paramilitary groups.
Being declared a martyr exempts Miller from the usual beatification requirement of having a miracle attributed to his intercession confirmed. However, such a miracle would be required for him to be declared a saint. A date for his beatification has not been set.
Miller was one of more than a dozen people whose saint-making causes advanced during an audience Wednesday between Francis and the head of the Vatican's saint-making office. During the audience, Francis took the unusual step of decreeing that Michael Giedroyca, a lay member of the Order of St. Augustine during the 15th century, could be beatified without being declared a martyr or having a miracle attributed to his intercession.
Giedroyc was born in Lithuania with a condition that resulted in short stature. He spent much of his life in Krakow, Poland, where he died in 1485.
Francis has granted a handful of such "equivalent" decrees for well-known and revered saintly figures, including Pope John XXIII, whom Francis declared a saint alongside St. John Paul II in 2014.
This story has been corrected to show the city where Miller was killed is spelled Huehuetenango, not Huehuetenago.