Assassination of a Saint

by Matt Eisenbrandt, University of California, £18.99

He was born on the feast of the Assumption, August 15, 1917 – so this year marks the centenary of Blessed Oscar Romero’s birth. There is a widespread and realistic expectation that it will also be the year of his canonisation. In consequence, there is sure to be renewed interest in the circumstances of the shocking assassination of the metropolitan archbishop of San Salvador in 1980, as he celebrated Mass. In 37 years, not a single person in El Salvador has been brought to justice for the crime.

It has taken Matt Eisenbrandt a decade to write this beautifully crafted volume, but it was worth waiting for. It is a timely addition to the literature on Archbishop Romero’s martyrdom. But it is not a theological or spiritual tract. It is a book for the general secular reader as much as for those who hold up Oscar Romero as an icon and inspiration on their faith journey. Eisenbrandt tells the story of Romero’s killing, the conspiracy behind it, the cover-up afterwards and the prosecution in a California court of one of the principal perpetrators of this crime against humanity.

Eisenbrandt belonged to the small group of lawyers who patiently pursued the Romero case knowing that it was possible, in this assassination context, and by using US legislation known as the “Alien Tort Statute”, to seek justice in an American court for those criminal conspirators resident in the United States – even when the Salvadoran authorities refused to investigate and charge those responsible. He has produced a gripping detective story alternating between San Salvador and a courtroom in Fresno, California, in 2004.

In hearing of the story of Archbishop Romero’s martyrdom for the first time, many Catholics find it difficult to believe that his murder at the altar was planned, financed and carried out not by atheists or communists but by people from the elite Christian families of El Salvador.

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