Phillip Berryman was contacted in 2004 by a law firm in San Francisco that was pursuing a civil case against one Alvaro Saravia, who was directly involved in the murder of El Salvador's Archbishop Oscar Romero. Saravia didn't pull the trigger but handled logistics. In the 1980s there were a couple of arrests for the murder of Romero, but no one was brought to trial, let alone found guilty. Since the late 1980s Saravia had been living in Modesto, California.
This is a civil case. As in so many other cases, the real aim is to help bring an end to impunity, esp. of the many murderers and torturers now living in Florida and elsewhere. Phil wrote a declaration (copied below). It is one of many, over 50, but Phil suspects that he has more direct knowledge than almost anyone. The lawyer told Phil he should feel free to share this declaration with anyone, so here it is.
NICHOLAS W. van AELSTYN (CA Bar No. 158265) [Counsel for Service]
RUSSELL P. COHEN (CA Bar No. 213105)
333 Bush Street
San Francisco, CA  94104-2878
Telephone: (415) 772-6000
Facsimile: (415) 772-6268

870 Market Street, Suite 684
San Francisco, CA 94102
Telephone: (415) 544-0444
Facsimile: (415) 544-0456
291 West 12th Street
New York, NY 10014
Telephone: (212) 989-0012
Attorneys for Plaintiff
J. Doe,
Alvaro Rafael Saravia; and DOES 1-10 inclusive,
Case No.:  Civ-F-03-6249
I, PHILLIP BERRYMAN hereby declare as follows:

1. My name is PHILLIP BERRYMAN, and I have personal knowledge of the matters set forth in this declaration.  If called upon to do so, I could and would testify competently thereto.

2. My name is PHILLIP BERRYMAN.  I live at 3818 Hamilton St., Philadelphia, PA 19104.  My phone number is 215-387-4585.  My e-mail address is  I am 66 years old and was born in Los Angeles, California.  I am a freelance translator of Spanish and Portuguese.  I am also an author and an adjunct professor of Latin American studies at Temple University.

3. My life has been involved with the churches and with Latin America.  I attended St. John's Seminary in Camarillo, California, and was ordained a Catholic priest in 1963.  After spending two years at St. Philip's church in Pasadena, in 1965, I went to work in Panama City where I worked primarily in the downtown poor area of Chorrillo.  In 1973 I withdrew from the priesthood and married but continued to be involved in Latin America.

3. In 1976 my wife Angela and I went to live in Guatemala as Central America representatives for the Quaker peace organization, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).  Our primary assignment was to monitor issues throughout Central America, and so throughout that period I frequently traveled to El Salvador.  We observed the rising violence against civilians in Somoza's Nicaragua, and in El Salvador and Guatemala, where we lived.  Indeed, we had to leave Guatemala in mid-1980 because it was clear that we were under surveillance, and many of our associates were being abducted, tortured, and "disappeared."  Upon return to the United States, I worked for the AFSC for another year.  In 1981 I began to work freelance, particularly doing public education on Central America.  With research grants, I wrote two books on the church in Central America, Religious Roots of Rebellion (1984), and Stubborn Hope (1994), the latter as a fellow at the Kellogg Institute at Notre Dame (1990).  I also contributed the chapter on Oscar Romero to The Terrible Alternative: Christian Martyrdom in the Twentieth Century (1998) the book that was commissioned to accompany the ten statues of modern martyrs over the west door of Westminster Abbey.

4.  My wife and I began our work as Central America representatives during a period of growing conflict and polarization in which Romero became archbishop.  Particular events that I recall include the following:

· July-August 1975 -- Demonstration to protest killings by government forces is itself attacked; priests and militants occupy the church in San Salvador for a week.  At least 20 are killed.

· July-August 1975 -- Government proposes a moderate land reform, which is opposed by landholders and business groups, and also by most of the left as a capitalist ploy.  Its only supporters are the U.S. embassy, the University of Central America (UCA), and the Communist Party.  Government bows to landholder pressure.  Bombs set off in the UCA as a warning to Jesuits.  Gen. Humberto Romero becomes landholder candidate in elections scheduled for February.

· December 1976 -- Landholder Eduardo Colindres killed under unclear circumstances in Aguilares in confrontation with militant peasants.

· January-February 1977 -- Government harassing, beating and expelling priests.  Rutilio Grande, S.J. pastor of Aguilares, preaches strong sermon.

· January-February 1977 -- Rival guerrilla groups abduct Roberto Poma, head of the government tourism agency (February), and foreign minister, Roberto Borgonovo (April) with ransom demands.  Both die in the hands of guerrillas.

· January-February 1977 -- In hastily arranged ceremony, Oscar Romero is made archbishop of San Salvador to replace aging Archbishop Chavez, who feels overwhelmed by the crisis.

· Feb. 28, 1977 -- National elections -- opposition claims fraud, holds vigil in downtown San Salvador.  After a week official forces attack, some flee to church; untold numbers killed; bishops intervene to allow militants to leave church; blood firehosed off the street.

· Feb. 28, 1977 -- Romero suspends first clergy meeting, suggests priests return to parishes and be willing to help those fleeing the violence.

· March 12, 1977 -- Rutilio Grande shot and killed while driving to say mass (along with old man and young boy).  Romero cancels all masses for the following Sunday except one.

· April 1977 -- Fr. Alfonso Navarro (who had said mass for protesters in the plaza) shot and killed. 

· May 1977 -- military operation in Aguilares; tanks and troops sweep through the surrounding countryside then take over the town, abuse parish personnel, occupy the church and use it for military barracks.  Romero has to go through roadblocks to Aguilares.

· May 1977 -- Group calling itself White Warriors Union threatens to kill Jesuits one by one unless they leave the country.

5. As part of my assignment, I visited El Salvador several times during this period.  I also published (under a pseudonym for security reasons) an article in the Jesuit weekly America on the killing of Grande and its aftermath.  These events illustrate the major features of the conflict:  the working alliance between landholders and government forces, and the impunity with which murder was used as a political tool (no serious effort was made to identify and bring to justice Grande's killers).

6. The U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador at this time was Ignacio Lozano, a political appointee of the Ford administration, who expressed disapproval of human rights violations.  I met with his political attachĆ©, William Walker (later to be ambassador).  Lozano and Walker had became personae non gratae and for security reasons left El Salvador in the days before the transfer of power to Gen. Romero.  The new Ambassador, a career diplomat named Frank Devine, said that he would take time to make up his mind; indeed over the next two years the Carter administration did little about human rights in El Salvador, although congressional hearings were held.

7. After the inauguration of Gen. Romero as president, the number of such incidents abated somewhat but continued over the next two years, during which several more priests were killed.  When the government and the press gave false versions of violence against the militant peasant organization FECCAS in Holy Week 1978, the archdiocese began systematic monitoring and reporting on human rights violations. 

8. Although it is sometimes said that he had previously been conservative and was "converted" by the killing of his friend Rutilio Grande, the change seems to have begun while Romero was bishop of the rural diocese of Santiago de Maria where his closer pastoral contact with peasants and how they were abused by landholders, police, and military had an effect on him.  Romero had spent most of his priesthood devoted to internal church affairs; he now came to realize that his own responsibility as a pastor was forcing him to make decisions and take public stands.  There is no indication that he enjoyed conflict or being in the limelight, but he did not shrink from fulfilling what he believed to be his duty.

9. When in El Salvador, I always went to the seminary complex (San Jose de la MontaƱa) which housed the Archdiocesan offices, usually to see one or another priest or layperson staff members.  On a few occasions I had appointments with Romero during this time, sometimes for a meeting with AFSC program staff from Philadelphia.  Whenever I was in his waiting room, there were always poor people from the countryside also. 

10. When in San Salvador on a Sunday I would attend his mass.  His sermons were soon significant national events:  he usually began by commenting on the liturgical readings of the day, drawing out themes, observations for one's personal life, the life of the church, and for Salvadoran society.  Especially incisive comments on the need for justice might be greeted by applause.  The style was more didactic than fiery, perhaps reflecting a logical sense that he had imbibed as a seminarian at the Gregorian University in Rome.  Because the newspapers, radio and TV stations all reflected the viewpoint of business, landholders, and the government, Romero began to describe incidents of human rights violations, which were not being mentioned anywhere else.  The sermons were a kind of alternate news, but they were in the context of preaching the gospel.  Soon these sermons were being broadcast from a transmitter at the compound of the church which housed the seminary and the Archdiocesan offices.

11. This was a period of the emergence of the "opular organizations,"made up of peasants, workers, slumdwellers, students, and so forth.  They were militant and represented various tendencies, divided by sectarian rivalry.  It eventually became clear that they were political expressions of the guerrilla organizations that had arisen in the early 1970s.  Whatever their ties, however, their practices were essentially marches, demonstrations, and sometimes occupations of public places.  They were an expression of frustration by ordinary people who did not see parties and elections as a way to effect meaningful change.  It should be noted that El Salvador had had an almost unbroken line of military presidents -- it elected -- stretching back to beyond 1944, when the dozen-year dictatorship of Gen. Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez had been overthrown.  Romero's second pastoral letter "The Church and the Popular Organizations," addressed the issue pastorally.  Peasants often moved from church-based activity to joining such organizations.  Romero warned that the lines between church and political activity should be kept clear.  However, by even considering the question Romero was legitimizing the popular organizations as legitimate actors.  In El Salvador's polarized society some saw this as unpardonable.  Most of Romero's fellow bishops disagreed, but he was supported by Bishop Arturo Rivera y Damas.

12. "To understand El Salvador, you have to start in the Soviet Union," I was told at the beginning of an interview (1977 or 1978) with the executive director of ANEP (National Private Enterprise Association).  This statement reflected the view of the elites that they were on the front lines of a world wide "war."  In fact, the major Salvadoran left organizations had arisen in opposition to -- and rejection of -- the (Moscow-aligned) Communist Party (which made an alliance with them only in 1980).   The military and the oligarchy regarded  the armed guerrillas, the popular organizations, the Jesuit university, priests and Romero as virtually identical: all were a threat to civilization itself (rather like "terrorists" today).  Implicit in this frame of mind is the assumption that peasants and other poor people are not acting on their own; if they become militant there must be a "brain" behind them -- particularly the priest, and especially Jesuits (hence the bombs and threats in the UCA starting in 1975 leading to the murder of the six Jesuits in 1989).  They also ignored the fact that the overwhelming majority of killings were being carried out against unarmed poor Salvadorans by official government forces or right-wing death squads.

13. The fall of the Somoza regime in Nicaragua (July 1979) led to a "we're next" feeling in El Salvador.  On October 15, a group of younger Salvadoran officers carried out a pre-emptive coup, overthrew the Romero government, and claimed that they were going to carry out a revolution.  The good intentions of at least some of the coup makers was clear:  two of the three civilians in the junta were from the UCA, as were a number of those in cabinet positions and directing government agencies, but in fact the level of repression sharply increased.

14. A week after the coup, I attended an evening meeting at the Jesuit-run high school, the Externado San Jose, with Romero in attendance.  That morning I had been with journalists accompanying a funeral march of FAPU, one of the popular organizations, to bury two of its members who had been killed while leafleting.  I witnessed the attack by National Guard troops, and after the shooting stopped, I saw two bodies.  At this meeting family members read the names of 176 of their loved ones who had "disappeared" under previous governments.  After their names had been read by family members, Romero addressed the meeting:  the "disappeared," he said, were either arrested or dead.  If arrested, they should be properly tried; if dead, the families should be notified.  Failure of the new government to do either would indicate that it did not really have control over the armed forces. 

15. Violence rose dramatically.  Church human rights monitors documented 281 people killed in December alone.  Most of the civilians in the government now resigned over this issue, but with encouragement from the US embassy, a new government made up of Christian Democrats (whose party had been defrauded in the 1972 and 1977 elections) was formed.  Major Roberto D'Aubuisson (Ret.) went on TV with a list of "subversives," including attorney general Mario Zamora, who was then gunned down in his house a day or two later.  Shortly afterward,  I ran into his brother, Ruben Zamora, who was still in the government, at the airport. At the urging of his wife, I made it a point to stand by him as we went through customs, security and so forth, just in case there might be violence or an abduction.  Not even government officials were safe from death squads.  Within weeks he left the government and went into exile.

16.  At one of his sermons in February Romero read the text of a letter he had sent to President Carter, appealing to his Christian sentiments, and stating that U.S. military aid would be used to increase the repression.

17. In view of the rising violence, the AFSC quickly organized a small ecumenical delegation.  I met with Romero at his modest residence in the hospital to secure his approval.  On March 23 at his Sunday mass the five members were in the nave of the church:  Betty Nute and Ron Young (AFSC), Tom Quigley (U.S. Catholic conference), William Wipfler (National Council of Churches), and Alan McCoy (the Franciscan Order).  The transmitter towers destroyed by a bomb had been repaired and so the sermon was being broadcast again.  Romero first preached on the texts of the day under the theme of liberation, and quoting church documents.  He mentioned dozens of recent examples of harassment and violence,­ e.g., ranging from a military encirclement of the national university, to a police invasion of the UCA in which a mathematics student was killed, to reported massacres of peasants.  He used the word "prerevolutionary"  to describe the situation of the country, but said that the basic issue "is how to get out of this critical stage by the least violent route."

18. In concluding, Romero said he wished to issue a special call to the National Guard, police, and military, telling them that they were killing their brothers and sisters, and that "no order from a man should have precedence over God's law: THOU SHALT NOT KILL...No soldier is obliged to obey an order against God's law."  He said it was time to obey their consciences.  The church could not "be silent in the face of such an abomination...Stop the repression!"  This was a threat to military discipline; but it was also a reiteration of the biblical commandment.

19. After the mass I mentioned to the Fr. Jon Sobrino, the Jesuit theologian, that this message had been bold.  He said that in the group of priests and lay people that met on Saturdays to discuss the sermon, they had agreed that this had to be said.  The delegation attended the press conference given by Romero after the mass and then met privately with him and a half dozen of his advisors.  The seminary grounds were filled with people who had fled to the capital from the military sweeps and state of siege that accompanied the U.S.-imposed land reform that had begun in early March.  We spent some time with the refugees and those trying to  help them. 

20. While walking on a deserted street after dark that night, I thought:  "This might be it."  Romero, who had been threatened many times, might soon be killed.  That foreboding increased the next day when I picked up off the street a mimeographed diatribe against Romero comparing him to the Ayatollah Khomeni.  By this time I had been close to political murder numerous times, not only in El Salvador.  For example, in 1978 I was on the hospital patio when a Guatemalan labor organizer died after being machine-gunned in Huehuetenango.  We had seen each other two or three weeks previously at a memorial for a Guatemalan priest, likewise killed for defending peasants.  Many of the liturgies I attended were for those murdered for their work for justice as an expression of their faith.

21. On Monday at around dusk, the delegation was at the Human Rights Commission when we heard that Romero had been shot.  We went to the seminary complex, and then to the hospital where he was taken and we were there when we heard that he had died.  That night we went to the U.S. embassy, where we met with U.S. Ambassador Robert White.  The embassy staff apparently were fearing that people might go on a rampage (perhaps comparing the situation to what had happened in 1978 in Nicaragua after the killing of La Prensa editor Pedro Joaquin Chamorro), but in fact nothing happened.  Our delegation had a scheduled meeting with Vice-President Jose Maria Morales Ehrlich, the next morning.  To our surprise, he kept the appointment, even though the country was presumably in a state of emergency after the killing.  The fact that the vice-president could meet with a foreign ecumenical delegation strongly suggests that the important decisions were not being made by civilian members of the government.

22. I returned to El Salvador from Guatemala for Romero's funeral, along with a married couple who were friends whom I assured it was safe because the eyes of the world were on the event.  We arrived Saturday and went to the Cathedral and joined the long line of people going past the casket.  At the mass the next day attended by an estimated 75,000-100,000 people, primarily poor and lower-middle class,  we were in the plaza toward the side of the National Palace.  In the middle of the sermon by Cardinal Corripio of Mexico City we heard an explosion and then a puff of smoke from behind the palace.  The crowd started to buzz.  Then came a second blast and automatic weapons fire.  People throughout the crowd -- presumably veteran activists who were not so surprised -- raised their hands and said "Don't run."  Those closest to the Cathedral sought shelter there; those of us further out had to exit out of the opposite corner of the plaza.  After what seemed like an eternity we reached that area and then moved swiftly until we were a few blocks away.  At that point we had to take a long trek on foot around the central part of the city to get back to our hotel.  During that walk we saw a truckful of uniformed troops go by, contrary to the government's claim that all troops had been in their barracks.  The death toll was at least 26, some crushed against the iron grates as people fled into the Cathedral.

23. The assassination of Romero was apparently intended as a message:  If they could kill an archbishop with impunity, no one would be safe.  Indeed, his death marked the end of public opposition activity.  Those who had been working in the popular organizations left the country, went underground, or joined guerrilla organizations.  El Salvador went into a slow-motion slide toward civil war.  In that sense his killing signaled that the peaceful (or "least violent," as Romero said) paths to resolving the crisis were being rejected.  Formal guerrilla war began in January 1981, and over time it became a military stalemate.  The resolution came only after 1989, when for geopolitical reasons (and out of Congressional revulsion over the killing of the six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter by the U.S.-trained Atlacatl Battalion during a guerrilla offensive), the United States indicated it was no longer willing to give carte blanche support to the military.

24. In the Catholic church, Archbishop Rivera y Damas carried on Romero's legacy, albeit with a different thrust.  He continued to argue the need for a negotiated settlement, as did the Jesuits at the UCA.  Pope John Paul II in his 1983 visit to the country used the word "dialogue" at a time when people like Major D'Aubuisson considered it treasonous, thereby helping to legitimize the idea.

25. As the killing of Romero in effect closed off public expression of opposition, his figure served as a rallying point for its re-emergence.  During the papal visit, people held up photos of Romero, using the pope as protection.  A year later on the fourth anniversary of Romero's death, Co-Madres, a women's human rights organization, held a modest action.  Soon workers were holding demonstrations and strikes, even in the midst of the war, and human rights, labor, refugee, and other advocacy groups became increasingly active for the rest of the decade.

26. In accepting an honorary doctorate at Louvain, a few weeks before he was killed, Romero said, "We believe in Jesus who came to bring life in fullness, and we believe in a living God who gives life to human beings and wants human beings to live in truth.  These radical truths of the faith become really truths and radical truths when the church takes its place in the midst of the life and death of its people.  Thus the church, like every human being, is faced with the most fundamental option for its faith:  being in favor of life or death.  We see very clearly that on this matter no neutrality is possible.  We either serve the life of Salvadorans or we are accomplices in their death.  This is where the historic mediation of what is deepest in faith takes place:  we either believe in a God of life or we serve the idols of death."  This theological rooting of Romero's life served as a leitmotiv for a whole generation in El Salvador, Latin America, and far beyond.

27. Romero was a stimulus to theologians.  The God-of-life-vs.-idols-of-death became a major theme in Latin American liberation theology, which itself is an attempt to consider Christianity from the side of the poor and in a continent of great injustice and inequality.  From the time he became archbishop, Romero embodied that approach in action.  Although he was not an academic theologian, Romero had been trained in Rome and was a pastoral theologian.  Shortly after the killing Jon Sobrino wrote a short book showing theologically that Romero was a "true prophet" and wrote other theological essays, which in 1990 were collected in Archbishop Romero: Memories and Reflections.

28. Romero provided a model for how a Catholic bishop can operate.  When visiting El Salvador in 1977-80 I had interviews with Romero only occasionally, but I frequently met with his informal team, e.g., the lay manager of a chain of shoe stores.  Romero himself spent much of his time on pastoral visits, especially in the countryside.  Unlike bishops who use the symbols of their office to project grandeur, he was quite unprepossessing and accessible to ordinary people.

29. In 1988 I attended the unveiling ceremony of statues of ten twentieth-century martyrs who now stand over the main entrance of Westminster Abbey.  Most are not Anglican and they represent all continents; their killers acted for a variety of motives; when examined closely, their lives are not always neat.  Romero was the last to be killed.  Etymologically "martyr" means "witness," and a martyr is one who dies in witness to faith.  Romero did not die for a doctrinal position but for his defense of the life of the poor, in the sense articulated in his words at Louvain.  In El Salvador, Latin America, and around the world he was "canonized" a martyr and saint by acclamation.  The anniversary of his killing, March 24, has been observed in hundreds of places.  His writings and sermons have been collected, and anthologized.  For many people who never knew him, he has become a figure of inspiration.  In the introduction to The Violence of Love: The Pastoral Wisdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero (James Brockman, ed.), the renowned speaker and spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen, wrote that reading his words, "I had encountered a man of God marked by humility and confidence, calling me to conversion and action."

30. I spent the 1980s working on making the situation in Central America known, and in working against U.S. policies of military aid and support for the regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala and for the Nicaraguan Contras, which, as Romero correctly predicted, were only increasing the repression and delaying a solution.  The example of Romero and other Salvadorans and his affirmation of life in the face of death threats was a goad and stimulus to me and many others.

31. This past April I spoke at an event organized by Romero Center in Camden (across the river from Philadelphia).  This event brought together dozens of community activists from many churches and other organizations to consider the applicability of liberation theology to Camden.  In the evening hundreds heard the theologian Gustavo Gutierrez reflect on liberation theology for the twenty-first century.  In the suburbs of Philadelphia is another Romero Center, whose primary constituency is not Catholic.  These are just two of the dozens of such centers in the US and probably hundreds around the world.  Very few of the participants knew Romero, and most became involved in the years after his death.  They are devoted not to remembering his person but to acting in his spirit, e.g., the Camden Romero Center brings in groups of young people to spend a few days living in a former convent and learning firsthand about life in the inner city.

32. Oscar Romero continues to be an example of a life lived in consistency with principle, of taking faith to its fullest consequences, of insisting that all human beings, even poor peasants, have equal rights that must be respected.  To use biblical phrases that he frequently invoked, he is the seed that in dying has given fruit; he has arisen in the people.

33. In El Salvador the killing of the Jesuits (1989) and the end of the Cold war led to a peace process (which had been adumbrated in various attempts in the mid-1980s, such as the Esquipulas accords in 1987).  The UN Peace and Reconciliation report documented the truth of the pattern of violence described above.  However, no one has been brought to justice for the estimated 75,000 murders and "disappearances."  Even the two lower-ranking officers found guilty of the Jesuit murders were released.  As in Chile, Guatemala, and elsewhere, the struggle against impunity remains unfinished business.  I hope that the civil action in this case can be a modest but real step toward ending impunity and sending a strong message of "never again."
I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the United States of America that the foregoing is true and correct.
Executed on August, 2004.