Catholic Church in El Salvador

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The Catholic Church in El Salvador is part of the worldwide Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Pope in Rome and the Episcopal Conference of El Salvador. There are almost 5 million Catholics in El Salvador. The country is divided into eight dioceses including one archdiocese, San Salvador. The Constitution explicitly recognizes the Catholic Church and it has legal status.

Despite its legal status, Catholicism in El Salvador has been in decline for the last 17 years with the most devout members above age 53. However, the religion remains a majority in all age groups,[1] although it is a slim majority among the young. Catholicism is most dominant in the San Vicente Department and weakest in Santa Ana. In the fall of 2018, El Salvador had its first saint, Blessed Oscar Romero.

History and society[edit]

The iconic Jesus statue Monumento al Divino Salvador del Mundo, a landmark located in the country's capital, San Salvador.

Catholicism began in the nation in the sixteenth century with the invasion of Pedro de Alvarado. San Salvador was made an archdiocese on February 11, 1913 with Monsignor Antonio Adolfo Perez as first Archbishop. Prior to that date it had been under the jurisdiction of Guatemala. Archbishop Luis Chávez y González from 1939 to 1977 encouraged priests to study farming cooperatives and made efforts toward improving the poorest sectors of El Salvador[2] (although in other respects he was a conservative who favored film censorship,[3] staunchly opposed Communism,[4] and was devoted to Pope Pius XII).

The governments have had a mixed relationship with the Catholic Church varying from friendly to anti-clerical. The most overtly Catholic-influenced political party might be the Partido Demócrata Cristiano with José Napoleón Duarte as one of its most noted founding members. The dealings of the government with the Catholic Church or Catholic organizations varied depending on the leadership of church or state at any given time. In modern times El Salvador is noted for having members linked to social and reform movements. At times these include followers of what's termed Liberation theology. The most well-known figure in the El Salvadoran church's history is Archbishop of San Salvador Óscar Romero. On March 24, 1980, during the civil war in El Salvador he was assassinated while saying Mass because of his positions regarding the government and demands to the end of the violence in the nation. In 2004 the Church in El Salvador asked for a reinvestigation of the case.[5] A federal judge trying a conspiracy count against a former Salvadoran military officer termed Romero's killing "a crime against humanity."

Despite that, most of the church in El Salvador is more conservative than this[6] and had no sympathy to the rebels during the civil war. Fernando Sáenz Lacalle, originally of Opus Dei, is the current Archbishop of San Salvador. He is in general an opponent of Liberation theology and his appointment in 1995 was viewed with disdain by followers of that school of thought.[7] He has been active in charitable work for earthquake victims[8] and outspoken against violence.[9]


Diocesan Priests 441
Religious Priests 236
Total priests 677
Priests per capita 1 in 5,689[10]
Permanent deacons 40
Males in other Religious Orders 410
Females in religious life 1,491
Parishes 358
total number of servers 2,564,869

Culture and festivals[edit]

A variety of saint days are celebrated as local holidays.[11] The country itself is called "El Salvador" which translates as "The Savior" and takes the Transfigured Jesus, the Divine Savior of the World, as its patron saint, and His Feast Day on August 6 is a national holiday. The nation's co-patroness is Our Lady of Peace.

A noted Catholic school is the Jesuit Externado San José whose alumni include ex-president Armando Calderón Sol and Roque Dalton, a Communist poet. A prominent seminary is San José de la Montaña in San Salvador where both Romero and liberation theologian Rutilio Grande studied.


  1. ^ International Religious Freedom Report 2005, US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor; 8 November 2005
  2. ^ El Salvador: The Role of Religion, Nov 1988
  3. ^ La Prensa archive Archived 2007-05-20 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Iglesia cr Archived 2007-05-24 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Church call over Salvador murder, BBC, 8 September 2004
  6. ^ El Salvador: The Roman Catholic Church, Nov 1988
  7. ^ Report from El Salvador, Fundacion Flor de Izote, April 17-April 24, 1995
  8. ^ Anglican Recognition No Effect On Romero's Cause, Archbishop Says, Catholic World News, 21 October 1997
  9. ^ Archbishop calls on Salvadorans to collaborate in eradication of violence, Catholic News Agency, 15 August 2006
  10. ^ 1 priest for every 5689 Catholics if the State Department is correct that the population is 57.1% Catholic.[citation needed]
  11. ^ "El". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2006-09-21.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]