TIME

On Tuesday, Pope Francis declared that Salvadorean Archbishop Oscar Romero was martyred “in hatred of the faith” and not killed for simply political reasons. Francis’s decision came nearly 35 years after Romero was assassinated by a right-wing death squad while celebrating Mass on March 24, 1980. His announcement opens the door for Romero’s beatification, the final stop on the road to sainthood in the Catholic Church.

But the decision is not without controversy. Though the Vatican formally began the process to canonize Romero in 1997, it was blocked for years as Rome navigated a wider debate across the United States and global Catholic community about whether Romero was killed for defending the faith or for taking strong political stances against the Salvadorean government.

During his pastoral ministry in San Salvador, Romero preached strongly against the violence that the military government committed against its political enemies—particularly against the nation’s poor and…

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