WASHINGTON — Thousands attended the May 20 funeral of a Salvadoran priest found by his parishioners in what some presume is a gang killing.
Parishioners found Father Cecilio Perez Cruz, a 35-year-old priest and pastor of San Jose La Majada parish in Juayua, shot dead in his residence May 18 with a note nearby that said he had not paid “rent,” a euphemism for extortion money, according to preliminary reports from Salvadoran police. Other Church officials suspect Father Perez was killed for speaking out against deforestation.
“He was a well-loved son of the Virgin (Mary) … a humble priest, simple, devoted to his people,” said Father Edwin Banos of the Diocese of Santa Ana, El Salvador, in a video posted May 18 on Facebook.
Father Banos, communications director for Catholic radio and newspaper Radio Fe y Vida y Periodico Digital Nuestra Iglesia in Santa Ana, attended the funeral in Sonzacate, where the slain priest’s parents live. Several bishops from throughout the country and Salvadoran Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez also attended.
In a statement, Bishop Constantino Barrera Morales of Sonsonate, the diocese to which the priest belonged, called on the national police and the justice department to find those guilty of “such an abominable crime” and demanded that they be brought to justice.
“In this moment of profound pain and indignation because of this tragic happening, I want to let all priests, faithful and the people in general know that I energetically condemn this sacrilegious killing of Father Cecilio, and I want us to remain united in prayer and redoubling our measures of security before the great insecurity that reigns in our bloodstained country,” Bishop Barrera said in his statement.
But on Twitter, Father 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.
On May 19, 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.
“We believe it’s not true, about that note” found near the body, the archbishop said the day after the killing, according to reports from several Salvadoran media organizations. He also said the priest had never paid extortion money before, nor had been threatened, which typically happens before someone is assassinated by gangs.