The Spanish Jesuits have stressed the need for “truth, justice and forgiveness” in the trial that begins in Madrid today over the 1989 massacre of colleagues in El Salvador.

– Colonel and aide charged with “design” and “execution” of killings

Former Salvadoran vice-minister of public security and colonel Inocente Orlando Montano along with aide René Yusshy Mendoza will sit in the dock Monday afternoon in a court in San Fernando de Henares charged with the “design” and “execution” of the murders of six Catholic priests, their cook and the latter’s teenage daughter in the Central American University (UCA) on November 16, 1989.

One of the murdered Jesuits, Ignacio Ellacuría, was a well-known liberation theologian who advocated for dialogue between the government and the guerrillas of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) during the bloody civil war in El Salvador (1979-1982) that claimed nearly 80,000 deaths.

Along with Ellacuría, four other “martyrs of the UCA” were Spanish-born.

– “Positive” step that trial taking place in Spain

In a statement today marking the beginning of the trial of Montano and Mendoza, Spanish Jesuit provincial Antonio España welcomed the proceedings as an important step in the “search for justice” that the members of the Central American province of the order has been on for the past 31 years.

España said that “both our Latin American colleagues and the Spanish Jesuits would have liked the trial to have taken place in El Salvador because of the symbolic and restorative meaning it could have had for the country and because it could have represented, in the UCA victims, the thousands of Salvadoran victims who remained anonymous”.

The Spanish provincial added, however, that given the reluctance in El Salvador to open an investigation into a dark and painful chapter in the country’s history, the dictates of universal jurisdiction and the fact that five victims were Spanish made today’s trial a “positive” step.

– Salvadoran Jesuits: “Tthe pain is healed not by forgetting, but by recognising the truth”

For their part, the Central American Jesuits and the UCA authorities also released a joint statement in which they denounced once again that the UCA massacre “was covered up from the start by the highest authorities of the country and denied by those who planned and ordered it”.

The Central American Jesuits and the UCA recalled that although the material authors of the crime were tried in 1991, those proceedings were a “farce” in which seven of the nine soldiers in the dock were absolved of any responsibility in the atrocity, with two others receiving 30-year jail terms for murder and conspiring to commit terrorism.

What’s more, to date “the intellectual authors, those who… ordered the murders… with malevolence, malice and forethought continue in the most absolute impunity”, the Jesuits and the UCA lamented.

Calling for the total uncovering of the facts of the massacre and for full accountability, the Salvadoran religious and university authorities said that “the pain caused by a crime is healed not by forgetting, but by recognising the truth, repenting and dignifying the victims”.

“That is the way of Christian forgiveness and the path to true reconciliation”, they insisted.

“Knowing the truth about what happened in this and in other cases will be good for El Salvador, it will contribute to justice for the victims, it will be a transcendental step in the process of reconciliation and it will bring peace even to the perpetrators themselves”, the Jesuits and the UCA heads said.

“Only by following this path can we say with the prophet Isaiah: “The work of justice will bring peace and the fruits of justice will be tranquility and security forever”, they concluded.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.