March 24, 1981
A year ago, March 24, 1980, Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero was assassinated while offering the Eucharist. He died, as he lived, in the service of the poor. His life and his death have been a vivifying witness for the Church in El Salvador, in the United States and especially for us his brother bishops.
A month before he was murdered, Archbishop Romero had written to President Carter asking that no military assistance be provided to the Government of El Salvador. Responding to this prophetic action, the bishops of the United States have consistently opposed all military assistance by the United States to El Salvador.
In the year since Archbishop Romero's assassination the war in El Salvador has claimed the lives of over 10,000 people. Every human life is equally sacred, but not all are equally vulnerable. The poor have borne the burden of injustice for decades in El Salvador; they now are most exposed to the violence of the war.
A symbol of the vulnerability of the poor was the brutal murder in December 1980 of the four American missionaries who worked daily among the poor. These selfless and brave women were engaged in the ministry of the Gospel: feeding, sheltering and defending the refugees who are the product of the injustice and violence in El Salvador today. No one should impugn the evangelical character of the lives of these women or question the sacrificial nature of their deaths. Their ministry and their murders should focus our attention on the basic problem in El Salvador: the quest for justice and human rights by the majority of the population which has too long been denied both.
In two recent testimonies before the Congress the U.S. Catholic Conference (USCC) has sought to keep this essential dimension of the conflict in El Salvador before the eyes of the American public and especially those who shape U.S. policy. As members of the Administrative Board of the USCC, we wish to endorse the recommendations of these testimonies. We are conscious that the situation in El Salvador is both complex and changing. We speak on the basis of the best knowledge we have available to us at this time. We do not speak lightly or hastily. Our desire is to further the public debate on an issue of great moral and political importance to the people of the United States and El Salvador.
We speak as bishops and pastors of the Catholic Church which has been called by the Second Vatican Council to stand as the sign and safeguard of the dignity of the person. We speak to the policy question of El Salvador because public policies affect people. We continue to have serious doubts about and substantial differences with U.S. policy toward El Salvador.
Specifically we wish to reiterate our opposition to military aid and intervention by the major outside powers. We oppose intervention in any form by the Soviet Union and its allies; we likewise oppose U.S. military aid or intervention in the war. Furthermore, we oppose the importation and use of arms received from any source. We urge instead that greater attention be given by the U.S. Government to a political resolution of the conflict in El Salvador by encouraging a dialogue among all parties. We support economic assistance to the people of El Salvador, but we also realize that its full effectiveness requires a basic political resolution of the conflict.
In conclusion, we speak again to the Church in El Salvador, to its bishops, priests, sisters and laity and the missionaries who serve there. We thank them for their evangelical witness, we pledge our continued support and we pray for a just and peaceful resolution of the war in El Salvador.