CUERNAVACA, Mexico -- The tension between hard-line Vatican officials and Chiapan Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia appears to have at least temporarily tipped again in favor of Ruiz, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee and champion of Mexico's indigenous poor.
In late August, church sources in Ruiz's diocese, San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, in southern Mexico, said they expected their bishop to travel to Mexico City soon to receive from papal nuncio Girolamo Prigione what they thought would be a letter of censure (NCR, Sept. 9).
But church sources in Mexico City say Prigione, not Ruiz, has packed his bags, leaving Mexico for a "vacation."
Ironically, the Mexican government may have lobbied Rome in favor of Ruiz this time, helping to reverse or delay Vatican action against the bishop. Earlier attacks against Ruiz were said to be the result of an alliance between conservatives from the Vatican, like Prigione, and government officials.
Fr. John Sweeney of the Jesuit Center for Theological Reflection in Mexico City said the government realizes Ruiz is "essential" to the peace process in Chiapas, where grassroots protests as well as tensions between paramilitary groups, backed by government troops, and the EZLN, the Zapatista National Liberation Army, are on the rise.
"During late August, rumors of the existence of a second armed (rebel) group in Chiapas caused great concern among officials in the Salinas government. They knew they had to renew the dialogue with the Zapatistas or war was inevitable," Sweeney said.
The rumors Sweeney described coincided with news that the Vatican was preparing to censure Ruiz.
"At the same time, five different sources brought news to Bishop Ruiz that Rome was preparing to move against him and had sent a letter to Prigione, which the nuncio would discuss with him. The contents of the letter, of course, were unknown," Sweeney added.
He said Ruiz is considered "the only person with the moral authority necessary to mediate another dialogue between the government and the Zapatistas." Vatican censure, Sweeney added, would make it impossible for the bishop to mediate in "a dialogue the government deemed essential."
While no details have been made public of a possible interchange between the government and the pope's representatives in Mexico, Sweeney said Prigione did an about-face on the Ruiz matter.
"By Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 31, Prigione was calling all over Mexico City to find Ruiz and cancel their meeting scheduled for 11 o'clock the next morning. Prigione immediately left for Rome with the letter," Sweeney said.
"These are the facts. I can only speculate that the Mexican government asked the Vatican to postpone or drop its proceedings against Don Samuel. This is the only scenario that makes sense," he added.
Support for Ruiz, however, simultaneously came from the Latin American bishops' conference, whose coordinating committee was meeting in Bogota, Colombia. The committee lauded the work of Ruiz and warned the Vatican, "Ruiz Garcia should not be removed from his diocese while he is mediating the armed conflict in the region."
Many Mexican priests and religious speculate that it may be Prigione -- not Ruiz -- who faces a job shuffle. They question the nuncio's use of unnamed intermediaries to inform Ruiz that a Vatican leter had arrived, as well as the leaks to the press about pending censure.
Groups of Mexican clergy and …