Four Murdered Churchwomen

By Jonathan Wallace

In World War One, when the French were looking for the worst propaganda accusation they could make about the Germans, they accused them of assaulting Belgian nuns. In the 1980's, the biggest scream headline I can remember in the New York Post was "Beast Rapes Nun". If you are looking for an act which stands on the outer limits of human brutality, violence against nuns is right up there with violence against children.

In 1980, Salvadorean national guardsmen raped and murdered three U.S. nuns, Maura Clarke, Ita Ford and Dorothy Kazel, and a church worker, Jean Donovan. The crime occurred in an atmosphere of U.S. financing and political support of rightist forces in El Salvador, during a time when other notorious murders of American labor officials and an archbishop also occurred. A Salvadorean politician, Roberto D'Aubuisson, was thought to command the death squads, and was reported to have personally ordered the slaying of Archbishop Romero. Our President and his administration turned a jovial blind eye to this violence, issuing statements that are about as shameful as any made by other Presidential entourages during Vietnam and Watergate. In 1981, Secretary of State Alexander Haig testified to Congress that the women might have been shot while trying to run a roadblock.

Eighteen years later, the imprisoned Guardsmen, who were said to have acted alone, are granting interviews describing how the order to kill the women came down their chain of command. Robert White, our Ambassador to El Salvador at the time, said then and reiterates now that he always knew "it was the military" and that a cover-up was under way.

In a front page article on April 3, 1998, The New York Times added the final twist to the story:

In 1993, a United Nations Truth Commission report concluded that Col. Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, the director of the National Guard in 1980, and Gen. Jose Guillermo Garcia, the Minister of Defense at the time, had organized an official cover-up. Nevertheless, both men have been granted residence in the United States and now live in Florida, according to public records.

Dostoyevski's Grand Inquisitor was willing to commit any crime necessary to preserve public order in the name of Christ--including executing Christ returned to earth. For decades, U.S. foreign policy in Latin America and in the third world could have been scripted by the Grand Inquisitor; it was necessary to kill democracy in order to save it. The U.S. has a lot of moral housecleaning left to do today, including acknowledging the truth about the four churchwomen and cooperating to bring any murderers we are harboring to justice.