Car bombings, oil men and Heaven’s lottery
Car bombings, religious extremists and possibly collusion by U.S. oil men… no, this isn’t Iraq, ca. 2007… but Mexico City, ca. 1927.
I’d known about the Pro Juarez brothers of course (everyone admits Miguel — now “Blessed Miguel Augustin Pro Juarez, S.J., Martyr” — was innocent, and a Mexican human rights/civil liberties organization is named in his honor), but the records are contradictory, with Catholic sources contradicting each other sometimes, and the historians unable to agree on exactly what — or who — was behind the whole thing.
I hadn’t known about the car bombing until I ran across mention of the only Catholic Saint to have lived in Texas (San Pedro de Jesus Maldonaldo Lucero, who studied for the priesthood and worked in El Paso from 1914 to 1918). “Borderlands” is a good source for Texas and Northern Mexican history, and while I don’t agree completely with the author’s perspective on the Cristero Revolt, she nicely summarizes the story.
In , President Plutarco Elías Calles and the former president, General Álvaro Obregón, weakened the Catholic Church in Mexico by enforcing the Articles of the 1857 constitution included in the 1917 version. Article 3 called for secular education in the schools, thus outlawing parochial education. Article 5 closed all seminaries and convents. Article 24 forbade worship outside the physical borders of the church.
Article 27 prohibited religious groups from owning real estate, thus nationalizing all Church property. Article 130 prohibited priests and nuns from wearing religious vestments, but more importantly, it took away from the clergy the rights of voting and speech, prohibiting the criticism of government officials and comment on public affairs in religious publications.
The closing of seminaries began during the Mexican Revolution, leaving nuns and priests with no place to live or work. The government also ruled that only Mexican born clergy would be allowed to remain and participate in religious activities in Mexico. By 1917, hundreds of religious had been expelled from Mexico or had fled the country.
The Catholic Church did not want to retaliate violently against the government, so from 1919 to 1926, they obeyed the laws. However, in 1926, President Calles introduced legislation which fined priests $250 for wearing religious vestments and imprisoned them for five years for criticizing the government.
Archbishop of Mexico, José María Mora y del Río, declared that the Catholic Church could not accept the government’s restraints. On July 31, 1926, the archbishop suspended all public worship by ordering Mexican clergy to refrain from administering any of the Church’s sacraments.
By 1926, as many as 50,000 men, mostly campesinos, but from middle and upper-class backgrounds as well, had taken up arms against the government. There has always been speculation within Mexico and from outside researchers as well (Linda B. Hall’s Oil, Banks and Profits, U. of Texas, 1995 and others) that U.S. oil men may have been financing the rebellion, hoping to weaken the revolutionary state.
That the “rest of the story” is from a highly dubious source… the July 25, 2003 “Executive Intelligence Report” (Lyndon LaRouche’s magazine). Even though Larouche is said to have “”one of the best private intelligence services in the world,” the guy is nuts. If you’re not familiar with him, Larouche headed political parties ranging from far right to far left, and always far out in the 1970s through the 1990s (when he was sent to prison for fraud).
The author, William F. Wertz, Jr. (based on a quicky “google seach”) is a German translator and apparently a believer in esoteric Catholic conspiracy theories. He was mostly interested in attacking the Buckley family (William F. Buckley, Sr. is the the usual suspect when it comes to financing the Cristeros. He had been expelled from Mexico in 1921 for his role in the brief de la Huerta revolt, but still had interests in oil companies in the country) and Spanish Carlism and some other obscure scholars.
At any rate, Wertz’s article was the most straight-forward account I could find, even though I had to edit out chunks. Wertz is a conspiracy buff, and tries to imply that Dwight Morrow and Calvin Coolidge were part of the Carlist conspiracy (and pulls in some woman from Virginia for good measure), so I checked everything against other sources: Catholic ones — pious (SAINT PADRE MIGUEL PRO); academic (“Restoring Christian Social Order”: The Mexican Catholic Youth Association (1913-1932) The Americas, April 2003) ; and doctrinal (Presbítero MIGUEL AGUSTÍN PRO JUÁREZ, S.J.) — and scholarly: ones — the usual Mexican history sources, my own Mexican history notes and Enrique Krauze’s Álvaro Obregón: El vértigo de la victoria: Fondo de Cultura Economica, 1987):
After nearly two years of warfare, with neither the Cristeros, who lacked ammunition, able to overthrow the government, nor the government, which was badly damaged by the rebellion economically, able to completely suppress it, the United States intervened to pressure the Mexican government to resolve the interrelated oil, debt, and religious questions. Thus in 1927, Dwight Morrow, a college friend of President Coolidge and a partner at J.P. Morgan, was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. He arrived there on Oct. 23, 1927.
Within a month of Morrow’s arrival in Mexico, on Nov. 13,  a bomb was thrown at General Obregón, in an unsuccessful assassination attempt. It was blamed on Father Miguel Pro… He had joined the Society of Jesus in 1911 and took his vows two years later. He then spent several years abroad studying in California, Nicaragua, Spain, and then Belgium, returning to Mexico City in 1926.
The person who constructed the bomb was Luis Segura Vilchis… During the attempt, two conspirators were arrested, Juan Tirado and Nahum Lamberto Ruiz, the latter of whom suffered a head wound, from which he later died. Two escaped, Segura Vilchis and José Gonzáles. The latter, … had borrowed the car used in the attempt from … Humberto Pro Juárez [other sources say Humberto had sold the car to Gonzales a week earlier]. This led to the arrest of both Humberto Pro and his brother Roberto… and to the arrest of their brother Father Miguel Pro, who himself worked with the League. Roberto was released, but Father Pro, Humberto Pro, Segura Vilchis, and Juan Tirado were all executed on Nov. 23, 1927.
Morrow later was instrumental in working out an agreement between the Mexican government and the Vatican (as a Protestant and a foreigner, he could act as a good faith negotiator), convinced the U.S. government (and the oil companies) to accept the Mexican Revolution and the new oil laws as a done deal — and financed Diego Rivera. As a result, he’s the only U.S. Ambassador to be remembered fondly in Mexico and to have a street (in Cuernavaca) named for him.
Although it’s not clear that Humberto provided the car from which the bomb was thrown at Obregón Essex’s, and Luis Segura told police the Pro brothers were not involved, Humberto and Roberto (who got a reprieve, and may have ratted out the others) were definitely involved in terrorist activities, and which sort of put them out of the running for canonization by the Church.
How much Miguel actually knew about his brothers’ activities is debatable. He had been out of the country until 1926, and following his arrest in October of that year for conducting underground religious services, was under police surveillance. If he had been involved (and the Catholic Church researchers and independent scholars both agree he was not), the likelihood is that either the detectives would have gotten wind of it, or the terrorists would have isolated him for their own protection.
The independents say he was executed for his family connections, the Church that it was for his religious beliefs.
By the way, many Mexicans accept Miguel Pro Juarez as the unofficial patron saint of the lottery. The conspirators were executed in the courtyard of the police headquarters, now the site of the Loteria Nacional. The pious sources all say Miguel’s last words were “Long live Christ the King,” but others say he said “Great, I win a ticket to Heaven!”
The ancient Romans never took mugshots before they fed the Christians to the lions. The Mexican police did take Miguel’s before they shot him. It’s rare to see a priest in clerical garb today, and unheard of during the 1920s… unless they really, really wanted a to win “Heaven’s lottery”… which in Miguel’s case, was also photographed