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Raising Hell outside the Cathedral (Oaxaca)

3 January 2018

Father Miguel Ángel Morelos García died last week in San Francisco Telixtlahuaca on the 43rd anniversary of his ordination. Nothing particularly newsworthy, but this is Oaxaca, where anything can set off a protest… even the death of a elderly country pastor.

Since January 2004, when José Luis Chávez Botello became Archbishop, 39 priests have died.  Considering that they were elderly men, that shouldn’t surprise anyone, but… the old priests were overwhelmingly clerics in indigenous communities, while not necessarily “liberation theologians”, out of tune with Chávez Botello’s intended return to a more traditional clergy.   With conservative bishops having controlled the diocese since 1999 (Chávez Botello, one of Pope John-Paul II’s “traditionalist” appointments has made it his mission to wipe out the influence of Liberationist bishop Bartolomé Carrasco Briseño,who had died in 1999.  Carrasco’s replacement,the  extremely conservative Hector Gonzales Martinez, later transferred to Durango, never had the time or inclination to remove the liberationists from their pulpits or to recruit replacement priests more to his taste). While the liberationist priests were able to hold on, they were getting older.  And, in stepped Chávez Botello… who not only has been systematically removing priests who offend his theological sensibilities, but those who dare speak of the flagrant pedophilia scandals that have particularly plagued indigenous communities. The most egregious and public of which was when the dean of the Cathedral was caught in flagrante delecto molesting an altar boy. But the scandal that gives the dissidents some leverage is the Bishop’s refusal to  comply with Vatican requests for information about Fr. Gerardo Silvestre Hernández.  Silvestre was imprisoned for  raping a nine-year old, and he is suspected in  over 100 other cases of child abuse (mostly of indigenous children).  Chávez Botello is said to have known about the abuse, but continued to simply transfer Silvestre from one parish to another.

When parish priests began openly calling for Chávez Botello to retire and even petitioning the Vatican for his removal, the Bishop has responded by transferring  dissident priests to remote parishes.  That some of the dissidents, like the late Fr. Morelos García were already serving… and long serving at that… in those remote parishes meant tearing away traditional community leaders (and men who had integrated themselves into their local community… sometimes on the quiet also having families of their own, accepted by their communities).

Fr. Morelos García, one of those priests who had called for the Bishop’s removal, and had been a long time supporter of various social movements in Oaxaca,  was said to have died of a broken heart when he heard he would be transferred  from his home and replaced by the Bishop’s choice for the pastorate, Fr. Leonel García.

Fr. García may be perfectly fine priest… but the parishioners of San Francisco Telixtlahuaca are not about to accept him with open arms.  Well… one hopes without arms at all, as they’ve occupied the local church properties.  While they held an impressive funeral for their late pastor (with six priests and a band), they’ve also taken to picketing the cathedral in Oaxaca City, demanding not just a new pastor more to their liking, but the immediate removal of the Bishop.

It’s a Oaxacan thing.

Pedro Matías, “Católicos de Oaxaca exigen destitución de arzobispo de Antequera por encubrir pederastas“, Proceso 3 January 2018

Oaxaca archbishop accused of cover-up“, Mexico News Daily, 27 January 2016

Stan Gotlieb, “Hard Times Ahead for Liberation Theologists“, Real Oaxaca, Volume 8, No. 20: December 15, 2003

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