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SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (ChurchMilitant.com) - The bishops' conference of El Salvador has begun the process for the canonization of Marxist liberation theologian Fr. Ignacio Ellacuría and his fellow Jesuits, who were murdered by the Salvadoran military junta in 1989.
"Our episcopal conference has begun the process of canonization of a large group of our martyrs who suffered the atrocities of the recent armed conflict in the country," the archbishop of San Salvador, José Luis Escobar Alas, announced during Holy Mass on Sunday.
"Today, I want to mention one of these martyrs in a special way: I am referring to Fr. Ignacio Ellacuría," Alas stated while accompanied by fellow bishops at the Eucharist in honor of the Divine Savior of the World, patron of the Republic of El Salvador.
The archbishop did not name the five other Jesuits: Fr. Ignacio Martín-Baró, Fr. Segundo Montes, Fr. Juan Ramón Moreno, Fr. Joaquín López y López and Fr. Amando López, who were killed on the campus of the University of Central America in San Salvador.
Elba Ramos, the housekeeper for the Jesuit community, and her 15-year-old daughter Celina Ramos were also assassinated in the Jesuit-run university on Nov. 16, 1989, by a U.S.-trained commando unit from the Atlácatl Battalion during a guerrilla offensive around San Salvador.
On the day of the assassination, a loudspeaker of the First Brigade publicly gloated that "killing communists" like the Jesuits was a soldier's patriotic duty and pride: "Ignacio Ellacuría and Martín-Baró are dead; we will continue killing communists. ... We are the soldiers of the First Brigade."
In his homily, Abp. Alas stressed that "mainly the poorest" in El Salvador have been constantly hit by violence and that "there are still many challenges to face so that this history of fratricidal violence does not repeat itself."
"If we want to reverse history for the poor, it is first necessary to continue working on improving legal procedures to avoid the imprisonment of innocents and to obtain the prompt release of the imprisoned innocents," the archbishop added.
"Ellacuría saw Marxism as offering a real and profound contribution to an understanding of the Salvadoran situation. He viewed Marxism as primarily a scientific criticism of capitalism and based upon this a practical program of anti-capitalism and construction of a new political and socioeconomic system," writes David Tombs in a journal article titled "The Legacy of Ignacio Ellacuría for Liberation Theology in a 'Post-Marxist' Age."
Father Ignacio Ellacuría was closely associated both with classical Marxism and the "cultural Marxism" of the Frankfurt School (led by Herbert Marcuse, Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, etc.), which spawned the subversive methodology of "critical theory."
Ellacuría lectured on Marcuse at the Jesuit university in El Salvador, and "his perspective shares many of the basic intuitions of critical theory, such as the hermeneutics of suspicion, a concern with emancipation, the use of dialectical methodology," according to the book Ignacio Ellacuría: Utopia and Critical Theory, penned in honor of the liberation theologian.
The Jesuit combined "the social and political dimensions of the messianic and utopian traditions of Judaism and Christianity with a Marx-inspired critique of society," the authors observed.
Proposing a heterodox brand of soteriology espoused by many liberation theologians, Ellacuría argued that the Central American poor were the "historical locus of salvation," because it is precisely among these dispossessed people that Jesus appeared.
"They are the place of personal conversion, of justification — to do justice and to be justified — of liberation as the fruit of justice and of that verification that proves, after making truth, where that truth is effectively being realized," he wrote in Los Pobres, Lugar Theologico en America Latina.
Ellacuría underlined that a Marxist analysis, which leads us to the conclusion that the rich have become wealthy by dispossessing the poor, resonates with how the prophets and the founders of the Church denounced wealth, inequality and injustice.
The poor are not only the place of salvation, but also the optimal place of revolution, Ellacuría explained: "A revolution made from the poor, with them and for them, scandalously becomes, thus, a new fundamental sign of the kingdom of God that is coming."
The only path to salvation, according to Ellacuría, is choosing to position oneself with the poor of Central America because the poor, like Jesus, are actively contributing to the construction of God’s kingdom through their denunciation of wealth and the structures that have been oppressing them.
"In the second half of the 20th century, Ellacuría is arguing that Central America has come to replace Galilee as the place from which Jesus is announcing his project to build a new world," writes Dr. Bradley Robert Hilgert in his doctoral dissertation on the liberation theologian.
"To get to heaven, first we must struggle to create a paradise on earth," Ellacuría would exhort his fellow priests.
"Jesus is fully secular, and within his secularity is the maximum realization of the reign of God and the maximum presence of God to man and of man to God: Jesus' secularity is manifest not only because he does not belong to the religious caste, but because his preaching on the kingdom of God spontaneously becomes a public action," Ellacuría lectured.
Ellacuría's Jesuit colleague and fellow liberation theologian, Fr. Jon Sobrino, who also lived at the Jesuit house but escaped the massacre because he was out of the country at a conference, was condemned by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in 2006.
In a notification issued by then-prefect Cdl. William Levada, the CDF said that it had sent "a list of erroneous and dangerous propositions" found in Sobrino's writings to the then-Jesuit superior general Fr. Peter Hans Kolvenbach.
In November 2009, the president of El Salvador, Mauricio Funes, announced that his government would bestow its highest honor, the Order of José Matías Delgado, posthumously, on the six Jesuits who were murdered twenty years ago on that same date.
Because the pope officially decrees that all Catholics are to believe that a certain person is in heaven and seek the saint's intercession in private and liturgical prayer, the Church believes that canonizations fall under the definition of papal infallibility.
"Since the honor we pay the saints is in a certain sense a profession of faith, i.e., a belief in the glory of the saints, we must piously believe that in this matter also the judgment of the Church is not liable to error," St. Thomas Aquinas declared (Quodlib. IX, a. 16).
However, traditionalist Catholics have recently challenged the consensus "that canonizations conducted by the pope are infallible and inerrant." In 2021, a dozen traditionalist writers, including four priests, published an anthology of essays in a book titled Are Canonizations Infallible? Revisiting a Disputed Question.
The traditionalist authors argue that the four great doctors of the Church — St. Bernard, St. Albert, St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure, did not hold to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Drawing a parallel, the writers claim that "we should be content to adopt the consensus of good and holy theologians from centuries past until and unless there is a compelling reason to depart from that consensus."