Nuns, activists want new Salvadoran inquiry into 1980 churchwomen deaths

IMAGE: CNS photo/Edgardo Ayala

By Edgardo Ayala

— Representatives of U.S. religious and human rights organizations called for the
Salvadoran government to reopen the investigation of the 1980 killing of three U.S.
nuns and a lay missionary.

It is important to “ask the
Salvadoran government and prosecutors to open this case, so that the
masterminds of this crime do not walk free, with impunity,” said Claire White,
who came on behalf of her father, former Ambassador Robert White, who died in January.

White told Catholic News Service
the U.S. government should pressure the Salvadoran authorities to do a proper
investigation and not let the intellectual authors go unpunished.

On Dec. 2, 1980, Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clark and
Ita Ford, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel and lay missionary Jean Donovan were
abducted, raped and murdered by members of the National Guard, when the North
Americans traveled by car from the airport. Civil war in El Salvador had
erupted earlier that year. The churchwomen were in El Salvador to work with
refugees of that conflict, but were regarded as leftist by the government.

The U.N. Truth Commission, established
in 1992 to investigate cases of political violence during the civil war,
concluded that then-Col.
Eugenio Vides Casanova, director of the National Guard, knew that a unit
from his command had carried out the assassinations and facilitated the
concealment of the facts, which hampered the investigation. In 1984, four
guardsmen were found guilty of the killings and convicted to 30 years in
prison, but those who planned the murders and gave the orders have never been
brought to justice, said some of the more than 100 North Americans who traveled
to El Salvador to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the murders.

“There may be justice if we
North American women go back and do what we need to do in terms of strategizing
to make that happen,” Ursuline
Sister Janet Marie Peterworth of Louisville, Kentucky, told CNS during a
Nov. 30 memorial service held in San Salvador’s Parque Cuscatlan.

She recalled the last letters
she received from Donovan from El Salvador and added, “It’s cold and rainy
in December in the States, and I can’t stop thinking of Jean Donovan and what
she said in one of her last correspondence: ‘I would come home, but where else
can you find roses in December?'”

“She did not come home, she
decided to stay,” she added, with tears rolling down her cheek.

Sister Peterworth said Donovan
used to say that the Salvadoran military would not killed “an American

“But they did,” Sister
Peterworth added.

Isabel Hernandez, El Salvador office director of the
SHARE Foundation, said: “We don’t want revenge, because we are Christians,
but we do want justice, the truth, we want to know who gave the order.” She
said the 1992 Salvadoran amnesty law must be repealed because it protects those
responsible for the murders of the churchwomen and many other victims.

In 2002, Vides Casanova and former Defense Minister Jose
Guillermo Garcia, who were both granted residence in the United States,
were found responsible by a Florida jury in a federal civil case for the
torture of three Salvadorans. In April 2015, Vides Casanova was deported to El
Salvador for participating and assisting the torture and assassination of
thousands of victims, including the four churchwomen.

The four guardsmen were
convicted because they were not eligible for amnesty, as their case was
regarded as nonpolitical.

During the current visit, U.S. delegates
visited the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero, assassinated in March 1980. They
also went to Central American University, where six Jesuit priests and two
women were killed in November 1989 by a military unit.

On Dec. 2, they were to travel to
Santiago Nonualco, a
small town in La Paz department, to attend a memorial service at the very spot
where the three nuns and the lay missionary were shot dead.

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