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Spanish Court Convicts Ex-Salvadoran Colonel of 1989 Murders of Five Jesuits

Former Salvadoran Col. Inocente Orlando Montano is pictured during a 2000 news conference denying involvement in the 1989 deaths of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter. On Sept. 11, 2020, a Spanish court sentenced Montano to more than 133 years in prison for his involvement in the slaying of five of the Jesuits. (Photo: CNS/Reuters)

by David Agren

(CNS) — A Spanish court has convicted a former Salvadoran colonel for the murders of five Jesuit priests in 1989 — a rare act of justice for an atrocity from El Salvador’s brutal civil war.

In a Sept. 11 ruling, former Col. Inocente Orlando Montano, 77, was found to have planned and ordered the murders of the five Jesuits priests — all Spanish nationals — Nov. 16, 1989, at their residence on the campus of Jesuit-run Central American University in San Salvador.

The five Spaniards were Father Ignacio Ellacuria, university rector, along with Fathers Ignacio Martín-Baro, Juan Ramón Moreno, Amando López and Segundo Montes. Salvadoran Jesuit Father Joaquín López and Julia Elba Ramos, a housekeeper, and her teenage daughter Celina, also were killed in the attack.

The court could only rule on the cases of the five Spanish Jesuits as a condition of Montano’s 2017 extradition to Spain from the United States, where he resided prior to his extradition.

Montano, who appeared at his Madrid trial in a wheelchair, was sentenced to 133 years, four months and five days in prison — 26 years, eight months and one day for each murder. He had pleaded not guilty and testified to not having any animus against the Jesuits or the Catholic Church and even spoke of Father Ellacuria as a friend.

Witnesses at the trial — held over nine days in June and July — said Montano considered the Jesuits to be “traitors” and saw, along with others in the army, the Central American University as infested with rebels from the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front.

Father Ellacuria was involved in a peace process to end the civil war, which prosecutors say was seen as a threat by the military command.

Yusshy Rene Mendoza, a former lieutenant and cooperating witness, testified that perceptions in the military were that Father Ellacuria supported the guerrilla cause. Mendoza also testified that the orders to kill Jesuits came from the “high command.”

The civil war in El Salvador claimed 75,000 lives and sent thousands more fleeing the Central American country. The conflict pitted right-wing death squads against left-wing rebels; human rights abuses were rife and claimed clergy and religious. It officially ended with a peace agreement in 1992.

[Related: Forty Years After Killings, Salvadoran City Claims Maryknoll Sisters as Its Own]

One thought on “Spanish Court Convicts Ex-Salvadoran Colonel of 1989 Murders of Five Jesuits

  1. As a Jesuit, I am thankful that finally some justice has been done in this case.
    Readers may find interesting my videos about the Jesuit martyrs. Just go to youtube.com and then search for
    jesuit martyrs mulligan.
    In Christ,
    Fr. Joe Mulligan, SJ
    PS I was born in Mt. Carmel in Astoria and attended grade school there. Many happy memories.

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