Leave them kids alone: Nuevo Jerusalén
Two hundred Federal and State Police officers had to be dispatched to Nuevo Jerusalén, Turicato, Michoacán where leaders of the dominant sect in the community led a mob that destroyed the community’s public school, and where a sizable faction within the “theocratic commune” opposes public education.
Although the “Ermitas” of Nuevo Jerusalén are mostly members of indigenous groups, they not only families indigenous to the region, but a number of immigrants who joined the sect since its founding in 1973. This fact alone complicates matters, since it is hard to argue that the sects’ eccentric practices are an expression of the commune’s “traditional customs and usages” which — under Article 2 of the Federal Constitution — hampers the state from intervening in activities that would otherwise be violations of other constitutional rights — such as a free education.
That is, while the Ermitas are not unique in having an “unorthodox” faith (they are “end-timers” who worship the “Virgin of the Rosary”) or in enforcing strict adherence to gender-assigned roles and clothing, or even in turning their backs on the outside world, they are subject to the law.
The State of Michoacán has had to intervene in the community before. The sect was led by a patriarch, Papa Nabor, formerly a Catholic Priest from Lazaro Cardenas. Nabor had been the personal choice of the the Virgin of the Rosary according to Gabina Sanchez — later Mama Salome — whose visions of the Virig Virgin led to the sect’s founding. Mama Salome died in 1982, and the new matriarch, Mamá María de Jesús was rejected by about 200 of the faithful who backed a dissident matriarch, Mamá Margarita. The conflict over matriarchal succession turned violent, and the sect — at the time, still recognized as a parish within the Santa Iglesia Católica Apostólica, Ortodoxa, Antigua y Tradicional de México (Holy Apostolic Orthodox Ancient Traditional Catholic Church of Mexico) — faced a second schism by the aging Papa Nabor appointed Martín de Tours as his “auxiliary bishop” — and was henceforth excommunicated. Under Martín de Tours, who took over the leadership in something of a coup in 2006, the sect has become increasingly intolerant of dissent, and seen by its critics as “fanatical”.
Although the Mexican state really has no say in the internal affairs of sects, the activities permitted by “cults” (not a perjorative term, but simply the legal designation of a religious body) are subject to regulation under the Constitution, and have a special legal personality. They are required to be registered with the Federal Government, and — under pressure from both the Roman Catholic and the Apostolic, Orthodox etc. Churches — the Nuevo Jerusalén sectaries are not a recognized corporate body that can set its own internal policies and regulations.
Certainly, there are “legitimate” cults that have been accused of trying to enforce a theocracy, or enforce outmoded and (to our liberal thinking, absurd) gender-specific regulations in behavior and activities, and even the largest, and charges of sexual abuse are raised against conservative religious bodies all the time.
They may indeed as Aguachile — who has been following the school controversy for some time — be a “psychopathic” and “violent cultists, who destroy schools and pelt children with rocks, and have in the past been involved in rape and abuse scandals of their own brainwashed flock, “ (something undoubtedly true of any number of organizations, religious and otherwise) but the sect’s support for the PRI is probably not the only reason for the state’s reluctance to intervene. Lazaro Cardenas Batal, the PRD governor back in the mid-2000s, when Martín de Tours was moving the sect into direct conflict with the State over its aggressive refusal to abide by legal requirements (the sect rejects vaccinations and public schooling, in addition to the standard guarantees of equality of gender, etc.) and disputes over the new leadership and direction of the sect was also as hesitant to take action until the conflicts turned violent.
While the present issue is serious — just obtaining a public school has been a contentious issue within the community for several years and one that was under construction was destroyed by “radical” supporters of Martín de Tours, I can understand why the state has been reluctant to act. While it is easier — for the reasons over-explained above — for the state to force the Ermitas to follow the law — or at least allow those who want to send their children to school to do so, it also calls into question those exemptions for “officially recognized” minorities whose practices one may not approve of, or even find pernicious, but whose existence has been tolerated.
Padre Luís , a spokesman for the Nuevo Jerusalén Cathedral complains that
What happens is that those people [who favor opening a school] are using the school as a way to introduce to our community things that are banned, like fashion, immorality, vice, drugs and alcoholism
It also is a way of introducing the community things like freedom of thought, social equality and economic opportunity, but is the argument made by the Padre so different than that made by any “traditional values” supporter… whether we are talking about the reactionary right in the United States or indigenous communities fighting to preserve a way of life?
Of course, I want the kids in Nuevo Jerusalán to have a school… and I want them to attend. I don’t mean to play “Devil’s Advocate” (nor defend Martín de Tours and his minions). But, nothing is ever simple, and the struggle between tradition and modernity, communal and individual values, is one that has been a constant in Mexico since the Conquest and it is never easy to create change, nor is change without risk.