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Better late than never

1 September 2009


If you think it took a long time for the Mexican courts to recognize their errors in the Acteal massacre trials, they are more efficient than some. From yesterday’s The (Mexico City) News:

Research conducted by the office of the Archbishop of Mexico has concluded that Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla and JosAc María Morelos y Pavón died as members of the Catholic Church and as priests.

The director of the Historical Archives of the Archbishopric of Mexico, Gustavo Watson Marrón, described in a conference how both Hidalgo and Morelos were excommunicated, but reconciled with the Catholic Church and confessed before they died.

Hidalgo and Morelos are now both celebrated as heroes of the Mexican War of Independence, Hidalgo as the “Father of the Nation” and Morelos as the “Servant of the Nation.” Both were Catholic priests but excommunicated by the church during their participation in the fight for independence.

The Archbishopric study was part of the Catholic Church’s activities leading up to the commemoration next year of the Mexican Independence Bicentennial and Mexican Revolution Centennial celebrations.

Watson detailed that in 1953, the Archbishop of Mexico Luis María Martínez formed a committee that determined that the excommunication of Miguel Hidalgo was valid, but found that Hidalgo did not die in excommunication, because according to records, he confessed before he died.

Watson also cited that Hidalgo was buried in an ecclesiastical plot, which at the time of his death in 1811, would not have been the case for an excommunicated person.

Excommunication is an ecclesiastical punishment by which a baptized person is removed from communion with the Church. Acording to Watson, a person becomes excommunicated not arbitrarily by a religious authority, but for violating a canonical law.

However, the Catholic Church includes ways that an excommunicated person may be forgiven, such as in the case of somebody facing death who confesses their sins to a priest, in which case the excommunication and related censures are immediately lifted.

Watson pointed out that the position of being a priest can never be taken away, that it is an eternal position, so “the conclusion is that, despite their degradation, Hidalgo and Morelos died as priests of the Catholic Church.”

With Morelos’ excommunication, there are additional complications.  Before Morelos took up arms, he requested permission from his Bishop, Manuel Abad y Queipo, to leave his parish and take up duties as a military chaplain.  Abad y Queipom denied the request and the excommunicatable offense was in disobeying his Bishop.  The other religious charges against him (such as fathering children) would not have led to his excommunication.  Given that the Inquisition trial was a mere formality (clergymen could not be executed, but could be thrown in a dungeon somewhere and forgotten about), the State´s interest in Morelos’ excommunicated was classic ¨”psych-ops”.

Morelos was a devoutly religious man, who had no fear of the firing squad, or even torture.  But, to be cut off from God broke him, and — in sincere repentance for what he thought were legitimate reasons for his excommunication — was willing to submit to authority, and even cooperate with his interrogators.

What Morelos did not know was that Manuel Abad y Queipo was not — technically — his Bishop, and he had disobeyed no ecclesiastical authority.  Abad y Queipo, who was in many ways sympathetic to the Independence movement (he was a friend and collaborator with Alexander von Humbolt, alarmed by weaknesses of a Spanish and Criollo dominated economy, warning that there would be violence unless the mestizos and indigenous peoples were brought into the colonial establishment), had only been nominated as Bishop of Vallodolidid.  The slowness of early 19th century communications, of Vatican bureaucracy and the unsettled situation in Mexico all meant that Abad y Quiepo was never confirmed in his office, and never was officially the Bishop.  The Vatican, last I heard, was still reconsidering the issue.

Ironically, while Morelos would be the last person ever condemed by the Inquistion in Mexico, Abad y Queipo’s suppoort for liberal and democratic reform would lead to his own excommunication trail before the Inquisition after his return to Spain.

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