Vatican City: The Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero, who was murdered by a right-wing death squad in 1980 and is an icon of the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America, has moved closer to being declared a saint.
Avvenire, the official newspaper of Italy`s Roman Catholic bishops, reported on Friday that a Vatican theological commission had ruled that Romero had been killed "in hatred of the faith", meaning that he will be considered a martyr.
The step, which now needs to be ratified by a commission of cardinals and separately by Pope Francis, means Romero can be beatified without a miracle being attributed to him. Beatification is the step before sainthood in the Church.
Francis, the first Latin American pope, told reporters in August that Romero had been "a man of God" and that he wanted the sainthood process to move swiftly.
The process had stalled under popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI because they saw him as too close to Liberation Theology, a radical movement that emphasised helping the poor and opposing injustice.
The archbishop of San Salvador was shot dead on March 24, 1980, as he celebrated mass in a hospital chapel. He had often denounced repression and poverty in his homilies.
The murder was one of the most shocking of the long conflict between a series of U.S.-backed governments and leftist rebels in which thousands were killed by right-wing and military death squads. No one was ever brought to justice for Romero`s killing.
The civil war, one of the Cold War`s most brutal conflicts, claimed some 75,000 lives before it ended with a peace agreement in 1992.
For Romero to be canonised, or declared a saint, after beatification, a miracle will have to be attributed to him. This usually takes the form of the inexplicable healing of someone who is sick and prays to a holy person who has died to intercede with God for a cure.