Catholic Fractures Widen in Mexico

Article excerpt

The following is based on reports by Bill and Patty Coleman in Cuernavaca, Me-xico, and by reports from Mike Tangeman of Catholic News Service, who was in Chiapas.

As Mexico's ship of state appeared to be faltering in a storm of economic chaos, civil war and continuing political scandal, the leaders of the church were making loud pronouncements about a unified front.

One of them, however, Bishop Samuel Rulz Garcia of San Cristobal de Las Casas, stands right at the point of conflict that divides rich and poor Catholics as well as members of the hierarchy who line up on either side.

The best the bishops could do in a meeting in late February was to urge solidarity and to draw a distinction between holding differing opinions and division.

"We are all united in Peter's boat," said Bishop Felipe Arizmendi of Tapachula, a fellow bishop in Chiapas state, on Feb. 22. "We should give eloquent testimony of our unity and that a respectful plurality and diversity can exist (among bishops), but never division - and differences of opinion are not the same as division."

Ruiz, who has championed the cause of poor indigenous people in his region, has served as mediator between the Mexican government and the rebel EZLN, or Zapatista National Liberation Army, that rose up more than a year ago, taking over areas of the Southern state of Chiapas. Ruiz has been attacked by crowds of rich landowners who see his ideas about indigenous rights as a threat. He also has been attacked by conservative members of the Mexican hierarchy.

One of the more curious church disputes to develop around Ruiz occurred after an article in the Feb. 22 edition of the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, praised Ruiz for his mediation of the conflict and strongly condemned those who had attacked the San Cristobal cathedral the previous Sunday.

Shortly after the article appeared, Archbishop Girolamo Prigione, the papal nuncio to Mexico and an arch opponent of Ruiz, issued a written statement in which he claimed the article did not represent Vatican policy toward Ruiz. The paper is usuauy taken to reflect the thinking of the Vatican.

In Catholic circles, the division seems to be everywhere, from the jungles of Chiapas to the sidewalks of Mexico City.

On Feb. 22, during a Mass in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, Christian base community members - many of whom were identified as nuns - waved banners and chanted their support for Ruiz and a negotiated peace in Chiapas. As the assembled bishops were leaving, the crowd chanted, "We want bishops at the side of the poor."

Earlier in February, according to widely published reports, Ruiz was summoned to the presidential palace in Mexico City with Cardinals Ernesto Corripio Ahumada of Mexico City and Adolfo Suarez Rivera of Monterrey. There, in a meeting with President Ernesto Zedillo, Attorney General Fernando Lozano Gracia read charges against Ruiz, accusing him of having hidden information about guerrilla activity in Chiapas before the Jan. 1, 1994, uprising, and of aiding the EZLN. He then demanded Ruiz's immediate imprisonment.

Zedillo, according to newspaper reports, defied Lozano and dismissed the charges, allowing Ruiz to return to his diocese.

Some in the government, however, appear determined to move against Ruiz. Eleven days after the meeting with Zedillo, the government leaked what it termed a military intelligence report claiming that Ruiz was the true commander of the EZLN rebellion and that his code name was "Commandante German."

Also irnplicated were progressive Mexican Bishops Arturo Lona of Tehuantepec and Jose Luis Martinez of Tarahumara. The report claimed they were among 134 religious and clergy involved in the EZLN. The list of alleged EZLN members totaled 2,275 people from all over Mexico, the United States, Europe and Latin America.

The church intrigue occurred against a backdrop of national financial crisis. …