The Roman Catholic Church in Mexico Los Medios en Mexico
1519Hernán Cortès brought the Catholic Church to Mexico. His expedition includeda friar, Bartolomé de Olmedo and a priest, Juan Díaz. Conversion of the Indianswas part of their mandate. In 1492, Pope Alexander VI had ordered that nativesof the new lands discovered by Columbus, be instructed in Catholicism for the“salvation of their souls.” Cortès accepted this wholeheartedly and actedaccordingly. At his first landfall in Cozumel he persuaded the natives to breakup their idols and erect crosses and a shrine to the Virgin. He continued theseefforts throughout the Conquest, sometimes after terrible battles. He was alsopunctilious about christening women given to the Spaniards as slaves. It wasforbidden for his men to have intercourse with any woman until she had beenbaptized.This same order from Pope Alexander VI in the Sublimus dei acknowledged thatthe natives had “souls” and this become an issue between the clergy and theestablishment. However, the same Papal declaration went on to say that thosewho rejected Christianity could suffer war, punishment and slavery. Seeminglycontradictory orders. The conflict of interests between Church and State beganshortly after the Conquistadors toppled the Aztec Empire. The bone ofcontention was the treatment of the natives.
The wording of Sublimus dei was a general pronouncement, framed in terms that appliednot only to Indians but to all unknown peoples. The principal passage reads:The enemy of the human race, who opposes all good deeds in order to bring men todestruction, beholding and envying this, invented a means never before heard of, bywhich he might hinder the preaching of Gods word of Salvation to the people: he inspiredhis satellites who, to please him, have not hesitated to publish abroad that the Indians ofthe West and the South, and other people of whom We have recent knowledge shouldbe treated as dumb brutes created for our service, pretending that they are incapable ofreceiving the Catholic Faith. We, who, though unworthy, exercise on earth the power ofour Lord and seek with all our might to bring those sheep of His flock who are outside intothe fold committed to our charge, consider, however, that the Indians are truly men andthat they are not only capable of understanding the Catholic Faith but, according to ourinformation, they desire exceedingly to receive it. Desiring to provide ample remedy forthese evils, We define and declare by these Our letters, or by any translation thereofsigned by any notary public and sealed with the seal of any ecclesiastical dignitary, towhich the same credit shall be given as to the originals, that, notwithstanding whatevermay have been or may be said to the contrary, the said Indians and all other people whomay later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty orthe possession of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ; andthat they may and should, freely and legitimately, enjoy their liberty and the possession oftheir property; nor should they be in any way enslaved; should the contrary happen, itshall be null and have no effect.
1519-24The Requerimiento, instituted in the New World since 1513, demandedthat the local populations accept Spanish rule and allow preaching tothem by Catholic missionaries; on pain of war, slavery or death. TheRequerimiento did not demand conversion. This claim provided a legalloophole for enslavement of the population as rebellious vassals if theyresisted, and the document stated: "We emphasize that any deathsthat result from this [rejection of Christian rule] are your fault…Many critics of the conquistadors’ policies were appalled by theflippant nature of the Requerimiento, and Bartolomé de las Casas saidin response to it that he did not know whether to laugh or to cry. Whilethe conquistadors were encouraged to use an interpreter to read theRequerimiento, this was not absolutely necessary, and in many cases, itwas read out to an uncomprehending populace.
On behalf of Fernando V, King of Spain, Defender of the Catholic Church, subduer of barbarians, and on behalf of Queen Juana, hisbeloved daughter, I, ( ), their servant, messenger, and captain, bring you word of God Our Lord, one and eternal. He is creator ofearth, of heaven, and of the man and woman from whom all of us are descended and from whom all future humans will descend. Alarge number of humans have been born during the more than five thousand years since the earth was created. Since no one areacould sustain so many people, humans were forced to scatter widely and divide themselves into many kingdoms and provinces.Our Lord selected one of these people, Saint Peter, to lead the humans on earth. All people, regardless of where they were or whattheir nationality or religion was, were placed under his jurisdiction. The Lord instructed Peter to govern from Rome, which was the bestplace from which to administer the earth. He also exercised power in other parts of the world so he could judge and governChristians, Moors, Jews, gentiles, and those of other faiths. Peter was referred to as the Pope, which meant admirable, elder, father,and guardian. He was father and governor of all mankind. They regarded Peter as master, king, and ruler of the world that theyinhabited. The popes who have been elected since then have been regarded similarly. Future popes will also be treated in this way.One of the pontiffs, who succeeded Peter, granted these islands and the mainland to our King and Queen and to their successors.You can inspect the documents that recorded this grant. As a result of this property transfer, their Highnesses exercise sovereignty overthese islands and over the mainland. Almost everyone who has been informed of this grant has received their Highnesses and haswillingly obeyed and served them as subjects and has not offered resistance. As soon as they received this information, theywelcomed and obeyed the priests that our Highnesses sent to teach our Holy Faith. All of them freely, joyfully, and without reservationbecame Christians and remain faithful. Their Highnesses received them with great joy and ordered that they be treated as othersubjects and vassals. You are obligated to act in a similar manner.Finally, I implore you to fully consider what I have told you. You may take the necessary time to discuss this information and torecognize the Church as owner and administrator of the entire world. You must also recognize our Holy Father, the pope, and theKing and Queen, our masters, as rulers of these islands and of the mainland. By virtue of the pope’s grant, their Highnesses havedispatched priests to teach you our faith.If you behave properly and perform your obligations to their Highnesses, I, in their name, will receive you with all love and kindnessand will protect your wives, children, and land, and will not impose servitude upon you. Rather than having Christianity forced on you,you are free to do what you wish. After having learned of our Holy Catholic Faith, you may accept Christianity, as almost all theresidents of the other islands and of more distant lands have done. If you do so, His Highness will bestow many privileges on you andwill shower you with favors.However, if you do not do this, or if you maliciously delay your response, you are hereby notified that, with God’s support, I will launchan all-out attack to force you to submit and obey the Church and their Highnesses. Furthermore, I will enslave you and your womenand children, and dispose of them as our majesty may command. Also I will seize your goods and inflict harm on you. You will betreated as disobedient vassals. You will be to blame for the resulting injury and death. The blame will not lie with me, their Highnesses,or the soldiers who accompany me. You have been warned. I request that the scribe who is present with me record this warning. Mayall who are present serve as witnesses.
In some instances it was read: to barren beaches and empty villageslong after the indigenous people and communities had left; toprisoners after they were captured; and even from the decks of shipsonce they had just spotted the coast. Nevertheless, for theconquistadors it provided a religious justification and rationalization forattacking and conquering the native population. Because of itspotential to support the enrichment of the Spanish royal coffers, theRequerimiento was not generally questioned until the Spanish crownabolished its use in 1556.Between 1519 and 1524 when 12 Franciscan friars arrived in New Spain,the process of conversion of natives was a simple baptism with nofollow up. It is highly unlikely that those “converted” had any realcomprehension of Christianity. Thus, Spaniards settlers claimed that thebaptized Indians were not true Christians, had returned to worshipingtheir old Gods, and could be enslaved. Indeed, for many years, the“Christianity” of the Indians was a thin veneer barely covering their oldpagan beliefs. The Conquistadors, interested only in personal wealth,had seized vast tracts of land. Called encomiendas, the natives wholived with their boundaries, baptized or not, were enslaved.
1542: “New Laws”The first to challenge the treatment of the natives in New Spain wasBartolomé de las Casas. He was appointed Bishop of Chiapas in1544. Twenty-five years earlier he had been expelled from SantoDomingo for protesting the enslavement of Indians. Back in Spain, hedrafted new laws that outlawed slavery in the New World. These“New Laws,” signed by the Spanish Emperor, Charles V. in 1542, wereignored and then suspended by those who governed New Spain.De Las Casas headed for Chiapas, fully committed to abolishingslavery. Since the entire economy of the colony was based on freenative labor, he failed. Ironically, he suggested the importation ofblack slaves from the Indies or from Africa as a possible solution. Itwas the first time that a representative of the Church hadchallenged the secular authority in New Spain.
The next Churchman to take up the cause of the Indians was Juan deZumarraga, appointed Archbishop of Mexico in 1527. Although moremoderate in his views than Las Casas, he soon came into conflict with theruling body of New Spain, an Audiencia, really a Church Court, headedby Nuno de Guzmán. Called “Bloody Guzmán” because of his brutaltreatment of both Indians and Spaniards, a clash between the two menwas inevitable. When Cortès, a bitter enemy of Guzman, returned to thecolony as Captain-General, Bishop Zumárraga excommunicated theAudiencia. But Guzman fled to what is now Jalisco where he continued towreak havoc among both Spaniards and Indians. Responding tocomplaints from Zumárraga a new Audiencia was formed under thenewly arrived Don Vasco de Quiroga Don Vasco de Quiroga. With the aidof Cortes, a friend of the Indians, and the approval of Don Quiroga andthe new Audiencia, Zumárraga established himself and the clergy as“Protector of the Indians”.
Bishops were now appointed and the Church began to exercise amoderating influence on the Spanish landowners. Although theyremained slaves, Indians could now turn to the Church with theirgrievances. Schools for Indians were founded, and now the truemeaning of Christianity was made clear to those who hadconverted. There can be little doubt that the firm grip of Catholicismon Mexico can be traced back to the efforts of Archbishop deZumárraga. He confirmed the vision of “Our Lady of Guadalupe”. Itwas he who set up the first shrine, later re-located, that still remainsthe most popular religious site in Mexico.Pilgrimages have been made to this shrine almost uninterruptedlysince 1531-32. The first basilica accommodated 2,000 worshipers thenew ultramodern basilica, inaugurated in October 1976,accommodates up to 20,000 (10,000 seated) people. Juan Diegosoriginal cloak with the mestizo Virgin image imprinted on it hangsabove the altar of the new basilica. An estimated 20 million makethe pilgrimage each year.
The Virgin of GuadalupeThe Virgin of Guadalupe has long been a symbol enshrining the major aspirationsof Mexican society. According to Roman Catholic belief, in December 1531, theVirgin Mary appeared on three occasions to a Christian Indian woodcutternamed Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac, six kilometers north of the zocalo. Shespoke to him in the Náhuatl and identified herself by the name of Guadalupe. TheVirgin commanded Juan Diego to seek out Bishop de Zumárraga and to informhim of her desire to have a church built in her honor on that spot. After twounsuccessful visits to the bishops house, Juan Diego returned to Tepeyac and wasordered by the Virgin to pick up some roses, carry them on his cloak, and attemptto make a third visit to the skeptical bishop. Once in the bishop’s office, JuanDiego unfolded his cloak to present the roses, and an image of a mestizo Virginhad been miraculously imprinted upon it.
Don Vasco de Quiroga, although a layman, had allied himself withZumárraga. As head of second Audiencia, his punishment of themembers of the first Audiencia, sent a message to the colonists. TheChurch, with government approval, would monitor the treatment ofIndians. When the Spanish landowners foiled efforts to force them togrant Indians freedom, De Quiroga started to set up monasteriesand community centers in which Indian children could beeducated. Manned by friars, they gave instruction in Christianity plusarts and crafts.Then De Quiroga turned his attention to Michoacan. To repair thedamage, done by Guzmán both as head of the first Audiencia andon the way to what is now Jalisco, Quiroga established himself inTzintzuntzan, the ancient Tarascan capital. Here he achievedimmediate results. Spaniards who exploited the natives werebrought to justice. Indians were given land, housing was provided.Schools and hospitals were run by the church. In essence, a form ofsocialism, with self-governing Indian communities, was established. In1538 he was appointed to the newly formed Bishopric of Michoacandespite being a layman. The organization of Catholicism he set up inMichoacan was to set the pattern for the establishment of thatreligion throughout what is now Mexico.
1749In 1749 the Spanish King, Ferdinand VI issued an order, transferring missioncenters from the control of religious orders to the regular clergy. The orderwas largely ignored but in 1767 another royal order expelled the Jesuits. Theirproperty was sized and turned over to the Crown. It is estimated that therewere more than 2200 Jesuits in the country, ministering to over 700,000Indians. Very unpopular, this order stirred up unrest in the country and startedprotests against Spanish rule.The Jesuits were among the last to arrive; their order was not founded byIgnatius Loyola until 1534 — nor did the Order receive Papal blessing until1540. Nevertheless, after the arrival of the first Jesuits in Mexico City in 1572,their order-—considered by many scholars to be more zealous andintellectual in this time period—-began to take the lead in aggressiveevangelism and education of the native population. The Jesuits built schoolsand missions and taught agriculture to the natives, moving northward out ofMexico City into the distant branches of the Sierra Madre Mountains. NativeMexicans came to trust the Jesuits, who intervened and tried to protect themfrom exploitation by other Spanish who needed cheap labor for cruel andback-breaking work in the silver mines.
The success of the Jesuits in education and evangelism was sopowerful that they came to be seen as a threat to those in authority,both secular and sacred, in both the Old and New Worlds. In addition,their zeal and devotion to traditional Catholicism clashed withfashionable new ideas of the European Enlightenment, and as suchthey were repudiated by philosophical thinkers who advocated theuse of reason in challenging ancient Church doctrine. Pressure beganto grow to take the Jesuits down.In 1767 King Charles III expelled the Jesuits from Spain and all of itscolonies, including Mexico. Seven years later, Pope Clement XIVsuppressed the Jesuit order. So influential and popular were the Jesuitsamong the natives that there were uprisings in the Americas after theJesuits were expelled. The order was restored by Pope Pius VII in 1814,and it remains an influential teaching order in Mexico into the 21stcentury.
Mexican IndependanceThe history of the relationship between church and statefollowing independence involves a series of efforts on the part ofthe government to curtail the churchs influence. Nineteenth-century liberals, trained in the law and influenced by the FrenchRevolution, were anticlerical. Liberals, who also were federalistand favored free competition, were highly concerned that theRoman Catholic Church, by owning between one-quarter andone-half of the land and by controlling most schools, hospitals,and charitable institutions, was practically a state within theMexican state.
1806-15The stage for the upheaval and dissatisfaction that gave rise to Mexicanindependence was set by political and economic changes in Europe and itsAmerican colonies of the late 18th and 19th centuries. The French revolution andNapoleonic wars diverted attention of Spain from its colonies, leaving a vacuumand increasing dissatisfaction and desire for local government. The forcedremoval of Ferdinand VII from the Spanish throne and his replacement by JosephBonaparte, Napoleon’s brother presented opportunity for Mexican intelligentsiato promote independence in the name of the legitimate Spanish king. From itsinception, the colonial government of New Spain was dominated by Spanish-born Peninsulares or Guachapins, who held most leadership positions in thechurch and government, in contrast to Mexican-born Criollos (Creoles) who werethe 10 to one majority. Neither Peninsulares or upper-class Criollos wanted toinvolve the masses of native Indians and mestizos in government or moves forlocal control. In 1808 the Peninsulares learned of Viceroy Jose de Iturrigaray’sintent to form a junta with Creole factions, a move that he thought might makehim King of an independent Mexican kingdom. In an armed attack on thepalace, Peninsulares arrested Iturrigaray and replaced him with puppet PedroGaribay after which they carried out bloody reprisals against Criollos who weresuspected of disloyalty. Although reform movements paused, political andeconomic instability in Europe continued as well as hardship and unrest in theAmericas.
One liberal organization that was forced underground was the Literary Club of Queretarowhich formed for intellectual discussion, but in practice became a planning organizationfor revolution. Independence- and reform-oriented thinkers also began to consider enlistingthe native Indian, mestizo and lower-class masses in wresting control from the Peninsularesand in armed independence movements. An active member of the group was FatherMiguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a well-educated liberal priest who questioned policies of thechurch including clerical celibacy, banning certain literature, infallibility of the pope andthe virgin birth of Christ. In Queretaro, Hidalgo met Capt. Ignacio Allende, a revolutionarythinker in the Spanish army. In spring 1810, Allende and Hidalgo planned an uprising forDecember of the year that leaked out to Spanish authorities and their arrest was ordered.
In September 1810, Father Hidalgowas forced to prematurelydistribute the Grito de Dolores tohis parishioners and nearbyresidents, which was an appeal forsocial and economic reform. Withlittle organization and no training,a mob of thousands of primarilyIndians and mestizos overwhelmedroyal forces in Guanajuato andproceeded to murder and lootboth Peninsulares, Criollos andother “whites” in their path. Theforce continued to Mexico Cityand defeated royalist forces onthe outskirts, but did not enter andoccupy the city after which theragged revolutionary armyreturned home. Hidalgo and hisCreole officers were later able toassemble an army of 80,000 bypayment with looted Peninsularegold and assets.
The Spanish viceroy responded to the insurgency with a vengeance and inJanuary 1811 Hidalgo suffered a serious defeat outside Guadalajara whererebel forces were routed at Calderon Bridge. Bloody retaliation followed bymass executions of suspected rebel sympathizers by Spanish crown forces. In1811, Hidalgo and associates were captured and executed in Chihuahua. After Hidalgo’s death, mestizo parish priest José Morelos was able to organize a number of the independent chieftains across Mexico, established a Congress which created a declaration of rights and independence from Spain under King Ferdinand VII and a Constitution which included abolition of slavery and equality of classes. Father Morelos was captured and tried by both military tribunals and the Inquisition. He was defrocked/degraded and executed in December 1815.
1833-40sBetween 1833 and the early 1840s, the Mexican government produced variouspieces of legislation to limit the power of the church. In 1833 the governmentadopted several anticlerical measures, including one providing for thesecularization of education and another declaring that the payment of theecclesiastical tithe was not a civil obligation.The rich and valuable lands held by the missions had long been a sore pointamong newly independent Mexican citizens who felt that all California lands, notonly the government sponsored pueblos and the few grazing tracts granted to aselect group of favorites, should be opened up to settlement. Consequently,increasing pressure was brought upon the government to recognize the temporaryintention of the missions under the old Spanish Laws of the Indies governing theiroriginal establishment, and to support colonization attempts such as thoseenvisioned by secularization proponents Jose Maria Padres and Jose Maria Hijar.Governor Echeandia issued decrees in 1826, 1830, and 1831 that weakened Indiandependence of the missions and set in motion the process of secularization of the21 Alta California missions. The orders were immediately revoked by his successor.They were replaced by a secularization law adopted by the Mexican Congress in1833. Finally, Governor Figueroas proclamation of August 9, 1834, defined animmediate plan for secularization and dispersement of mission property.
The secularization plan provided to each mission resident head offamily a lot 100 to 400 varas square and entitlement to the use ofmission common lands, as well as a portion of the mission livestock,chattel, tools, seeds, and property. A civil administrator was appointedto inventory and apply the remaining mission property to payoutstanding debts and incurred expenses of secularization and civilmaintenance. The padres were given charge of the church itself, itslibrary and furnishings, and allowed a dwelling at the mission, andwere to receive an annual salary as curates. The mission assets werealso to cover church expenses and servants, as Indians were freed bythe decree from their role as personal servants to the padres.In spite of the decreed purpose to release mission Indians fromconditions of near slavery and dependence and to open the land forsettlement by petitioners, the immediate effects of secularizationthroughout California were to deprive a large percentage of theremaining mission Indians of their rightful property, and to dispersemission property quickly, frequently without regard for legal process, toa relatively few fortunately situated individuals.
Juárez Laws 1855-57The first major confrontation betweenthe Church and the state occurredduring the presidency of Benito Juárez(1855-72). The 1855 Juarez Lawdrastically reduced traditionalecclesiastical privileges. On March 11,1857, a new constitution was adoptedthat denied all ecclesiastical entities theright to own real estate and abolishedmost remaining ecclesiastical privileges.On July 12, 1857, Juárez confiscated allchurch properties, suppressed allreligious orders, and empowered thestate governors to designate whatbuildings could be used for religiousservices. Mexicos first religious civil warwas fought between 1857 and 1860 inreaction to the legislation
Emperor Maximilian: 1864-67Maximilian of Austria was a European nobleman invited to Mexico inthe aftermath of the disastrous wars and conflicts of the mid-19thcentury. It was thought that the establishment of a monarchy, witha tried and true European bloodline, could bring some much-neededstability to the strife-torn nation. He arrived in 1864 and was acceptedby the people as Emperor of Mexico. His rule did not last very long,however, as liberal forces under the command of Benito Juarezdestabilized Maximilian’s rule. Captured by Juarez’ men, he wasexecuted in 1867.Maximilian was first approached in 1859 with an offer to be madeEmperor of Mexico: he refused, preferring to travel some more,including a botanical mission to Brazil. Mexico was still in shambles fromthe Reform War and had defaulted on their international debts. In1862, France invaded Mexico, seeking payment for these debts. By1863, French forces were firmly in command of Mexico and Maximilianwas approached again. This time he accepted.
Maximilian and his wife Charlotte arrived in May of 1864 and set up theirofficial residence at Chapultepec Castle. Maximilian inherited a very unstablenation. The conflict between conservatives and liberals which had caused theReform War still simmered, and Maximilian was unable to unite the twofactions. He angered his conservative supporters by adopting some liberalreforms, and his overtures to liberal leaders were spurned. Benito Juarez andhis liberal followers grew in strength, and there was little Maximilian could doabout it.When France withdrew its forces back to Europe, Maximilian was on his own.His position grew ever more precarious, and Charlotte returned to Europe toask (in vain) for aid from France, Austria and Rome. Charlotte never returnedto Mexico: driven mad by the loss of her husband, she spent the rest of her lifein seclusion before passing away in 1927. By 1866 the writing was on the wallfor Maximilian: his armies were in disarray and he had no allies. He stuck it outnevertheless, apparently due to a genuine desire to be a good ruler of hisnew nation.Mexico City fell to liberal forces in early 1867, and Maximilian retreated toQuerétaro, where he and his men withstood a siege for several weeks beforesurrendering. Captured, Maximilian was executed along with two of hisgenerals on June 19. He was 34 years old. His body was returned to Austria thenext year, where it currently resides in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna.
New Constitution 1917The constitution of 1917 highlighted and institutionalized many of the 19th-centurysecular reforms. The new constitution included at least five articles that affectedall religious groups, regardless of denomination. These articles, which remained ineffect until 1992, appeared to preclude any national role for the Roman CatholicChurch. Article 3 forbade churches from participating in primary and secondaryeducation. Article 5 prohibited the establishment of religious orders. Article 24mandated that all religious ceremonies occur within church buildings. Article 27gave the state ownership of all church buildings.Article 130 contained the most extensive restrictions on the Roman CatholicChurch. The article stated that the Roman Catholic Church lacks legal status;ecclesiastical marriages have no legal standing; state legislatures can determinethe maximum number of clergy operating within their boundaries; and operationof church buildings requires explicit government authorization. Among the mostcontentious provisions of Article 130 was Section 9: “Neither in public nor privateassembly, nor in acts of worship or religious propaganda shall the ministers of thereligions ever have the right to criticize the basic laws of the country, of theauthorities in particular or of the government in general; they shall have neitheran active nor passive vote, nor the right to associate for political purposes.”
1926-29: Cristero RebellionBeginning in 1926 and continuing until the late 1930s, various federal and stateadministrations strenuously enforced these constitutional edicts and related laws.Their actions paved the way for the second Mexican religious war, the bloodyCristero Rebellion of 1926-29 in western Mexico. During this period, the governor ofSonora ordered all churches closed, officials in the state of Tabasco requiredpriests to marry if they were to officiate at mass, and the Chihuahua governmentallowed only one priest to minister to the entire statewide Roman Catholicpopulation.Beginning on August 1, 1926, over 4,000 Priests were expelled or assassinated ineight years. Only 334 priests were licensed (by the government) to serve some 15million people. All Church property was seized, public worship became illegal (nobaptism, no Mass, no marriage), and priests were forbidden to vote or evenspeak against the government.
The Cristero movement is an essential part of the Mexican Revolution.When in 1926 relations between Church and state, old enemies andold partners, eventually broke down, when the churches closed andthe liturgy was suspended, Rome, Washington and Mexico embarkedupon a long game of chess. These years were crucial, because theysaw the setting up of the contemporary political system. The stateestablished its omnipotence, supported by a bureaucratic apparatusand a strong privileged class. Just at the moment when the statethought that it was finally supreme, at the moment at which itdecided to take control of the Church, the Cristero movement arose,a spontaneous mass movement, particularly of peasants, unique in itsspread, its duration, and its popular character.
Church-state conflict officially ended with the administration ofManuel Ávila Camacho (1940-46). With the notable exception ofArticle 130, Section 9, the government tacitly offered non-enforcement of key constitutional provisions in exchange for theRoman Catholic Church’s cooperation in achieving social peace.Over the next four decades, enforcement of Article 130, Section 9,served the interests of both the government and the Roman CatholicChurch. The constitutional restriction on ecclesiastical politicalparticipation enabled the state to limit the activities of a powerfulcompetitor. It also permitted the Roman Catholic Church to sidestepcontroversial political issues and to concentrate on rebuilding itsecclesiastical structure and presence throughout the country.The Roman Catholic Church hierarchy has emphasized that itsrenewed interest in political affairs does not equate with churchinvolvement in party activities. According to the Mexican episcopate,priests should be above all political parties and may not becomepolitical leaders. However, the church hierarchy also argues thatpriests have a moral responsibility to denounce actions that violateChristian morality.
1980sBy the early 1980s, however, this unspoken consensus supporting thelegal status quo had eroded. The Roman Catholic Church regarded theconstitutions anticlerical provisions, especially those governingecclesiastical political activity, as anachronistic. It demanded the rightto play a much more visible role in national affairs. At the same time, thechurch became increasingly outspoken in its criticism of governmentcorruption. The Mexican bishops Global Pastoral Plan for 1980-1982, forexample, contained a highly critical assessment of the Mexican politicalsystem. According to the Roman Catholic hierarchy, democracy existedonly in theory in Mexico. The ruling PRI monopolized power, producingapathy and frustration among citizens and judicial corruption. Theprincipal worker and peasant unions were subject to political control.Peasants and Indians constituted an exploited, marginalized massbarely living at a subsistence level and subject to continual repression.During the mid-1980s, the bishops of Chihuahua and Ciudad Juárezassumed prominent roles in denouncing electoral fraud in northernMexico. In the south, the bishops of San Cristóbal de las Casas andTehuantepec frequently accused the government of human rightsviolations.
1990sThe Salinas administrations 1991 proposal to remove all constitutionalrestrictions on the Roman Catholic Church, recommendationsapproved by the legislature the following year, allowed for a morerealistic church-state relationship. At the same time, however, tensionsremained in the relationship, particularly in southern Mexico in generaland in Chiapas in particular. Local government and PRI officials andranchers accused the Bishop of San Cristóbal de las Casas of havingsupported the rebellion that began in Chiapas in 1994, a charge thatthe bishop denied. Federal soldiers repeatedly searched diocesanchurches in their pursuit of the rebels. The government also expelledforeign clergy who were accused of inciting violence and landseizures. In addition, the Vatican accused the San Cristóbal prelate oftheological and pastoral distortions and named a coadjutor(successor) bishop for the diocese in the mid-1990s. For their part, therebels insisted that the bishop continue to serve as mediator in theirnegotiations with the federal government.
Mexican Catholicism is extremely varied in practice. It ranges from those whosupport traditional folk religious practices, usually in isolated rural communities, tothose who adhere to the highly intellectualized theology of liberation, and fromcharismatic renewal prayer groups to the conservative Opus Dei movement. Laygroups with different goals, purposes, and political orientations are well knownand common in contemporary Mexico. The largest and best known includeMexican Catholic Action, Knights of Columbus, Christian Study Courses, ChristianFamily Movement, Legionnaires of Christ, and a wide range of university students’and workers’ organizations.One creepy symbol is the skeletal figure of La Santa Muerte, Saint Death, whoserves as the patron saint of gangs. Santa Muerte is condemned by the officialchurch but worshiped in countless clandestine shrines. Nor is she the onlymanifestation of a subversive pseudo-Catholicism that veers close to outrightdiabolism. Another wildly popular folk saint is the 19th-century bandit JesúsMalverde, "angel of the poor," patron of drug dealers and illegal migrants.Devotees of San Juan Soldado (Soldier John) venerate a man executed in 1938for raping and murdering an eight-year-old girl. While such beliefs demonstrate aprofound faith in spiritual realities, they also show the yawning gulf that separatespopular practice from any traditional concept of Christian faith.
ConclusionIn opposition to the Marxist vision of the Church that considers it aninstrument of the State to preserve the regime, we can see that,throughout Mexican history in the 20th century, the characteristic positionof the institutional Church in the Mexican political spectrum has been thatof the opposition to the Mexican State, even if that opposition haschanged across time.The Church is not an “ideological apparatus” of the State used to upholdthe status quo. Although is true that, in many occasions, the Hierarchy haspartnered with other elites, for example, the business and party elites; itspurpose has been to fight for its own socio-Christian project and defend itsown interests (such as obtaining legal recognition). The clergy supports laygroups to pressure the government, but when the objective is to negotiatewith it, instead of using intermediates, the Hierarchy always prefers to dealdirectly with the Presidents of the Republic19. The Church did that in thearrangements to finish the Cristeros War, and with each and every one ofthe governments of the institutionalized revolution, even with theultraliberal Salinas, to achieve constitutional modifications.
The Hierarchy in Mexico has been the hardest critic of the liberal andsocialist ideologies, but paradoxically, at the same time it has been animportant actor in opening the politics in Mexico, because of its role ofcounterbalance to PRI’s governments, in the context of an authoritarianand hegemonic party system.The collaboration of the Church with the post-revolutionarygovernments, known as Modus Vivendi, never was a Hierarchy’sidentification with or submission to the State; but a period to recoverenergy after Cristeros War, and the coincidence of a common enemy ofthe Church and the State: communism. In addition, in the same period,the Church made itself into an important actor able to indict thegovernment. That fact, along with many other factors and actors,managed to undermine the PRI’s hegemony and, as a consequence,being an indubitable ingredient for Mexican democratization.
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