Top 2014 religion stories

Here is our annual round-up of the top religion stories from the past year in El Salvador submitted by our friend Carlos Colorado.   Be sure to also read his overview on the news surrounding Oscar Romero in 2014.

Top Ten Religious Stories for 2014

If you click on the label for the topic “Religion” in Tim’s Blog on the right hand side of the screen, you will call up both institutional news relating to particular churches and stories that focus on ethical issues facing Salvadoran society. Tim himself came to El Salvador through the church: “I have been visiting El Salvador since 2001 in connection with the relationship which my church in Wisconsin has with a sister church outside of Tonacatapeque,” Tim tells us in his profile. Accordingly, this roundup on El Salvador’s top ten religious stories is not intended as a narrowing filter, but rather as a barometer of the great debates that El Salvador has been wrestling with in a given year. 2014 was no different.

1. El padre Toño
A good story is equal parts personality quirks and broader themes and issues. The story of Father Antonio Rodriguez (Padre Toño) is a case in point. Padre Toño is a Spanish-born Passionist priest who made a name for himself in El Salvador by working with the maras or youth gangs. Typically, Padre Toño appeared in civilian garb and was known for a maverick streak—operating largely on his own, often critical of authority. In July, Padre Toño was charged with essentially crossing the line from being an advoctate to becoming an accessory to the gangs, allegedly smuggling cell phones into the jails, improper influence peddling and other wrongdoing. After reportedly being squeezed by prosecutors by the use of “intimate secret recordings” of the priest, Padre Toño copped a deal. “Murky at best, the case of Padre Toño, shows the perils for anyone who might act in the role of a mediator with the gangs,” Tim appropriately concluded when reporting the story here.

2. The Catholic Church's Stance on National Security

From the same breeding ground as Padre Toño, other stories this year shined the spotlight on the role of the Church in confronting the scourge of gang-related violence and killing that has afflicted the country. Clearly, the Catholic Church in El Salvador has taken on a higher profile than any time since the 1980s, when the Church was vocal in denouncing human rights violations. In a widely quoted phrase, Archbishop Escobar warned in August that El Salvador was getting dangerously close to being “a failed state” due to the strength of the maras. The government strongly resented the statement. Even Pope Francis weighed in on the issue, warning a young Salvadoran to “beware the maras” in a web chat with young people. Later, the archbishop softened his tone with the government and sent his auxiliary to serve on the government’s security roundtable, but the criticism stung.

3. The Evangelical Churches' Stance on National Security

If the Catholic Church has seemed ambivalent in its response to security issues, supporting a truce with the gangs in prior years and then withdrawing its support, for example, the Evangelical Churches appear more consistent in addressing problems at a grass roots level. In addition to offering activities and alternatives that appear to more readily and directly engage the problem (as opposed to the Catholic approach of focusing on policy solutions), Evangelical Churches also have taken up high profile efforts such as organizing defiant marches for peace in gang-infested communities.

4. El Salvador's New Profile: "Half-Catholic"

A Pew Research Center report on religion in Latin America cemented a reality that has been decades in the making: El Salvador is officially half-Catholic. Analysis in Catholic circles has been maddeningly “self-referential” (as Pope Francis might say; i.e., focused strictly on in-house explanations, such as Vatican II, Liberation Theology, or inadequate Catholic leadership), but the real reasons have more to do with broad global trends and regional history. PROLADES, a Protestant think tank, has comprehensive explanatory materials here (in a nutshell: Protestants have been targeting Central America since the early 20th C., but were only able to crack the nut in the 1990s based on millions of dollars infused from the U.S. and local Catholic churches weakened by ferocious political persecution in the 70s and 80s).

5. Gang violence infringes freedom of religion
Many stories this year highlighted gang violence directed at individuals engaged in religious activities or affiliated with a particular church (six members of an evangelical church were killed in Tacuba; the Elim Church denounced attacks against its members; the 84 year-old guard of the Don Rua Church was murdered; a man was shot dead at “La Luz del Mundo” Evangelical Church in San Salvador; numerous other crimes were directed at people going to church, leaving church, or allegedly impeding them from going to church). While most gang violence is indiscriminate, it is so widespread that its mere pervasiveness appears to be an affront to the right to worship. Still, there may be a deeper animus.

6. The Child Immigrant Crisis

A huge story in U.S. news earlier this year was the surge in unaccompanied children from Central America seeking entrance to the United States. Like other stories here, the spike is believed to have been caused by a rise in gang violence in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

7. Romero beatification

The Salvadoran government and the Salvadoran Church both pressed the Vatican to expedite the beatification of slain Archbishop Oscar Romero. In my blog, I predict Romero will be beatified in 2015.

8. The UCA Martyrs

El Salvador observed the 25th anniversary of the massacre of the Jesuit staff of Central American University in 1989. Tim covered the story here.

9. New episcopal bishop

The Episcopal Church in El Salvador got its first new bishop, Rev. David Alvarado, in the second election in the Church’s 80 plus years in the country. He takes over from Bishop Martín Barahona in 2015.

10. New Catholic TV Channel

Finally, in a clear effort to stem the losses to Evangelical Protestantism, the Catholic Church got its own TV station this year. It plans to reach 85% of the country’s inhabitants.


Tim, please do not confuse "national security" and "public security." This confusion has a long history in El Salvador and other Latin American nations. National security is outside threats that are the propper responsibility of the military. Public security is crime and should be handled by the police. Confusing the two leads to view citizens as the enemy.
Terry Bridges said…
Tim, I think you've missed an important religious story; the role that the Catholic and evangelical churches are playing in supporting and maintaining the total abortion ban in El Salvador-- which has led to misery for many women in the country. For example:
Carlos X. said…
Lawrence, point taken. But note that many in El Sal see the gang threat as a national security threat (thus Abp. Escobar's "failed state" comment).
Carlos X. said…
Terry, Tim has covered the abortion issue on the blog and it was on the top ten last year.