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Onward Christian Soldiers…

8 April 2009

With more than some justification, the Santa Muerte faithful picketed outside the Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City last Sunday to protest what they see as “official repression” of their church.

While religious prejudices have always existed in Mexico, previous religious persecutions were more aimed at curtailing the power of the Roman Catholic Church than at minor sects.  Reports on the government action seem to stress that Santa Muerte is not recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, which doesn’t seem to mean anything.  There are any number of non-officially Catholic sects  in Mexico, which share some rituals and beliefs with the Vatican-centered Church, and whose adherents may refer to themselves as “Catholic”  but whose beliefs are not subject to state sanctioned controls.

santa_muerte_01Most of these sects, like Santa Muerte, have sprung from pre-colombian religious beliefs, and survived the conquest by blending in ostensibly “Catholic” elements.  Santa Muerte’s only really unusual feature is that it also has blended in Afro-Caribean religious customs (“voodoo”).  Santa Muerte is basically a nature religion, that accepts good and evil, life and death as part of the cosmic cycle.  There have been extra-legal actions against these sects,  as there have been against indigenous Evangelical groups, usually grounded in local political disputes disguised as protecting “traditional values.”  But, in the years since the end of the Cristero War, this is the first time I can recall FEDERAL action against a sect.

While there is some evidence that Santa Muerte congregants are active in the narcotics trade or other illegitimate activities, other “drug cult” religions … like Jesus Malverde worshippers  have not been suject to official attacks, which in Nuevo Laredo included sending the Army to destroy shrines.

Santa Muerte has its  appeal for criminals… as does the Jesus Malverde sect which has been left alone… but criminals among the congregants doesn’t a criminal organization make (with the possible exception of the Legionaires of Christ).

Santa Muerte has run into trouble with the government before.    Santa Muerte in its present form has been around Mexico City and Veracruz since at least the 1880s, but as a formal sect, it is relatively recent.  Its present Archbishop, David Romo, came to the sect from the “Tridentine Church of Mexico/U.S.A.” a breakaway sect of the Roman Catholic Church (as were Presbyterians, Lutherans, Anglicans, Baptists, etc… though not as recently).  Romo organized the various Santa Muerte groups into a formal church, and registered them with the state under the Tridentine Church”.  In Mexico, “cults” (which includes any religious organization) are registered with the Secretaria de Gobernacion, and the Roman Catholic hierarchy took the unusual step of seeking to de-certify the Santa Muertes, when Santiago Creel was Secretary.

While I’m no expert in Santa Muerte, or Roman Catholic, theology, the so-called “Death Cult” openly tolerates the less-than-respectable — prostitutes, policemen, gangsters — that aren’t always welcome in the more mainstream congregations.  It’s a growing church within Mexico City, and thoughout the country.  I have a sense that the anti-Muerte spin has as much to do with politics as religion.   Creel, of course, was a PAN leader, in a PAN administration, and PAN has been and is the “Catholic” party.  Creel had also recently lost an election to Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, whose political strength lay in his appeal to the urban poor… the kind of people who find Santa Muerte a more congenial outlet for their religious fervor than the Roman Church and who are more likely to vote for leftist candidates.

While religious persecution on a small scale has happened, and is troubling, what’s worrisome her is that the ARMY was used for the iconoclasm.  Which means the Federal Government is willing to bend the laws for the benefit (or to the detriment) of various sects (the Roman Catholic Church denies any involvement with the Nuevo Laredo actions, but requires we take that on faith, and faith alone)… and, even more troubling… that, as I have predicted in my more morose states, that the government would start using military forces to attack non-conformity, and excuse under the rubric of “drug gang” the oppression of the poor and dispossessed.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. 8 April 2009 10:50 am

    Good article. From what you have described I see three possible things going on behind the scenes. One, the Government bureaucrats have to pick on someone to be considered relevant or active. Two, why not pick on a group that has the potential to draw votes away via Liberation Theology. Three, the economy is tight and the money laundering business amidst traditional religious channels has some new competition. That and ordinary people want an ordinary local religion back after its being hijacked centuries ago. The central government is losing its grip or no longer seems to have total control over the population.

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