16 December 2007

Support For Radical Mexican Priest

Diego Cevallos, IPS

Former members of the Catholic Church hierarchy and over 100 social organisations closed ranks behind Monsignor Raúl Vera, the only Catholic bishop in Mexico who still adheres to liberation theology, and whose unorthodox stances and confrontational style are disturbing conservative sectors.

"The Vatican is wary of Vera, and there are rumours that proceedings may have been initiated against him. But we want to state that the bishop is not alone, and that we will defend him," the head of the non-governmental Ecclesiastical Observatory (OE), José Guadalupe Sánchez, told IPS.

In an open letter published... by several newspapers, social organisations in Mexico and abroad, and bishops like Pedro Casaldáliga of Spain and Samuel Ruiz of Mexico, who are adherents of liberation theology... declared an "alert" because of the accusations against Vera, whom they call "a pastor and prophet for our time."

Vera, 62, was ordained bishop in 1988. He originally served in the impoverished southern state of Guerrero and then in nearby Chiapas where he was auxiliary bishop to Ruiz in San Cristóbal de las Casas. From 2000, Vera has been the bishop in the city of Saltillo, the capital of the state of Coahuila, in northwestern Mexico. In November a judge in Coahuila formally complained to the Vatican, in his personal capacity as a Catholic churchgoer, that Vera had abused his ecclesiastical powers under canon law.

Vera had called Judge Hiradier Huerta a "ruffian" from the pulpit, in criticism for sentences he passed against army troops accused of raping local women. Huerta accused Vera of slander and asked the Vatican to impose the maximum penalty, which is removal from office.

Vera is known for his outspoken criticism of government leaders and members of the business community, as well as for his demands for justice for the poor, especially indigenous people, and for the views he shares with the left. Those he criticises, in turn, say that he is more of an activist than a man of God.

The Mexican Church has made no official comment, at least in public, about Vera, who is the only active bishop among its numbers who openly adheres to the principles of liberation theology, which grew out of the Second Vatican Council but which was soon frowned on by the Vatican.
During the nearly 27 years of the papacy of John Paul II, who died in 2005, this progressive current in the Latin American Church was combated by the retirement or transfer of nearly all the bishops that supported it, and the silencing of several of its theological writers.

Vera wrote the foreword to a book about the Church and pederasty, recently published in Mexico, which may have upset his peers. In it, the bishop appears to give credence to reports that archbishop Norberto Rivera, primate of Mexico, might have covered up for a paedophile priest. When Vera worked in San Cristóbal de las Casas with Bishop Ruiz, who retired in 2000, the Vatican was openly critical of their diocese, which it viewed as "irregular" for ordaining too many indigenous deacons, and teaching unorthodox doctrines.

A member of the Dominican order, Vera is critical of the government of conservative President Felipe Calderón, a devout Catholic who, in Vera’s view, is not living up to his promise to fight poverty, and is mistakenly following free-market economic strategies. When Calderón referred to the supposed achievements of his administration on its first anniversary, Dec. 1, Vera’s comment was that either his advisers were pulling the wool over the president’s eyes, or Calderón was a liar. "The truth is, it makes me see red; forgive me, you know what I’m like," he said.

Abridged. Published by Inter Press Service. Link:

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