Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

RIGHTS-MEXICO: Bishop Samuel Ruiz asked for Immediate Resignation

Diego Cevallos

MEXICO CITY, Feb 24 1999 (IPS) - As Samuel Ruiz, Bishop of the Mexican state of Chiapas since 1959 and symbol of the progressive arm of the Catholic Church in Latin America, prepares for retirement in November, his opponents call for his immediate removal.

Ruiz, mediator between the government and the Zapatista guerrillas until 1998, should retire immediately as “he has already done plenty of damage to the country,” said Angel Trujillo, leader of the San Cristobal Civic Front, Wednesday.

This body is made up of land owners and traders of San Cristobal – the third city of Chiapas, unconvinced by the Bishop’s support for the poor and oppressed.

Ruiz announced last week he would retire in November when he reaches 75, abandonning his post to “avoid casting shadows” over his successor, Raul Vera, who was designated his “Assistant Bishop” by the Vatican in August 1995.

The San Cristobal Civic Front said it would be planning “civil resistance,” without giving any details of what this might be, to demand the bishop resign immediately.

Ruiz has been at the head of the San Cristobal diocese for the last 40 years.

The bishop, who has been the target of continual controversy within the Church – even being investigated at one point for alleged ‘doctrinal deviations’ – and candidate for the Nobel peace prize, stated his retirement would not stop the diocese working in favour of the indigenous people and the poor.

When the Vatican appointed Vera as Ruiz’s assitant he was widely expected to put the brakes on the bishop’s liberation theology leanings, but analysts now say the successor has turned out even more radical than the man he will replace.

Vera, at 55 years old, is openly critical of the Ernesto Zedillo administration’s economic policy and military strategy in Chiapas, where he states a “low-intensity war is underway.”

Furthermore, he justifies the uprising of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) in response to the poverty and marginalisation reigning in the southern state and demanding respect for indigenous rights.

“In our case there will be no suffering like in other dioceses, when there is a time of insecurity during the changeover from one bishop to another. We already have Monsignor Vera, who now knows the diocese and truly loves it,” declared Ruiz.

During Pope John Paul II’s visit to Mexico in January, the San Cristobal Civic Front and other conservative groups in Chiapas gave the Church leader several letters requesting Ruiz be removed, accusing him of encouraging violence and the indigenous rebellion. They also demanded Vera not replace him.

Last year, the government accused Ruiz of taking a stance favourable to the Zapatista guerrilla, forcing him to give up his role as mediator in the conflict.

Prior to this, several of his Mexican collaborators had been investigated and detained by the police, accused of involvement in politics, while some foreigners were expelled from the country.

Along with other Latin American prelates, Ruiz has promoted Liberation Theology since the early sixties – a current of Catholicism lobbying to liberate people from poverty, believing Catholic doctrine should be broadcast beyond the inner circle of believers.

Historians and social researchers claim the Zapatista guerrillas led by Subcomandante Marcos were partly founded through the pastoral work of the Church in Chiapas.

In fact, several leaders of the armed groups are known to have been catechism students.

Ruiz denies opponents claims that he knew a guerrilla group was germinating in the rural areas of Chiapas, but despite being a sworn opponent of violence, he justifies the rebellion.

The bishop studied for the cloth in Rome and has been working in the Church for 50 years, and is ready to retire now as “when one gets to a certain age, one starts to walk a way other than what should be the path of life.”

Regulations within the Catholic Church state bishops must retire when they reach the age of 75.

Admirers of Ruiz, like the Nobel Prizewinners Rigoberta Menchu and Adolfo Perez Esquivel, have declared they will continue supporting his Nobel candidacy even after his retirement.

In 1995, when Ruiz was first proposed for the Nobel Peace Prize, the committee supporting his candidacy collected 280,000 signatures backing their proposal worldwide.

Republish | | Print |

Related Tags