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“We need a respectful, mutual listening, free of ideology and predetermined agendas.” Pope Francis, Let us Dream, December 2020

Gang murder or environmental crime in killing of Salvadoran priest?

Many took to social media to denounce the 18th May killing of a Salvadoran priest while urging authorities to look at the crime as a possible retaliation for Fr Cecilio Perez Cruz’s criticism of the cutting of trees near the western town of Juayua.

Initially, many characterised the crime as a gang killing because of a reported note found near the body of the 35-year-old priest. The note allegedly said he had not paid ‘rent’, a euphemism for extortion of money. Members of San Jose La Majada parish, where he was the parish priest, reportedly found the priest dead at his residence.

But on Twitter, Fr Antonio Rodriguez, known as Padre Tono, a Spanish priest who lives in El Salvador, said he believed that the assassination was a crime perpetrated by those who “traffic” lumber.

‘There is a lot of fear, silence and suffering’ among defenders of the environment and human rights, Fr Rodriguez tweeted in Spanish on 21st May. ‘Like the murdered priest, there are many who defend creation and denounce predators who are protected by politicians and greedy and evil entrepreneurs.’

Those perpetrators likely left the note behind to make it look like a gang killing, he suggested in a tweet.

On 19th May, Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas of San Salvador said he did not believe the note that spoke of the priest not paying ‘rent’ existed, but did not say why he believed that. However, he agreed that Church officials did not believe the killing was related to gangs.

Picture: Priests pray over the casket of Fr Cecilio Perez Cruz during his funeral Mass in Sonzacate, El Salvador, on 20th May 2019. (CNS photo/Jose Cabezas, Reuters).