ON June 21, 1929, President Portes Gil and Archbishop Ruiz y Flores issued separate public declarations which ended the latest phase of the long conflict between the Mexican Government and the Catholic Church. These declarations were the outcome of an effort at mediation undertaken by Ambassador Dwight W. Morrow following an interview he had had with Father John J. Burke, C.S.P., the General Secretary of the Catholic Welfare Conference. The suggestion of this interview was made to him in October 1927 by Cardinal Hayes and Judge Morgan J. O'Brien of New York. The negotiations were conducted in the first instance by Father Burke and President Calles. They were facilitated and directed by Mr. Morrow; they resulted in an understanding which was reached by Father Burke and President Calles at their secret meeting in Vera Cruz on April 4, 1928. With only slight alterations this was the understanding to which President Portes Gil and Archbishop Ruiz, acting with authority from the Holy See, gave their public approval fifteen months later.

The history of this mediation is a notable chapter both in the history of Mexico and in the history of American diplomacy. No one is in a position today to write a definitive account of the matter. The records are in the archives of the Mexican Government, of private individuals in Mexico, of the Mexican hierarchy, of the American hierarchy, and of the Vatican. They have not been assembled and they are not available as yet to the historian. The data available are, nevertheless, sufficient to attempt a contemporary interpretation. It has been my privilege to observe certain aspects of the negotiation, and to know some of the principals in it. The data which I shall use have all at one time or another been published, and all that I could or shall attempt to do is to arrange them in such order as may bring out their significance. I have, for example, already referred to a secret meeting at Vera Cruz between Father Burke and President Calles. The fact that this meeting took place was subsequently reported in the American press; that the understanding reached at this meeting was in fact the understanding which finally received public approval was recognized by President Portes Gil in an interview given on June 23, 1929 to El Universal of Mexico City.

The interpretation of a matter which contains so much controversial matter is, of course, a delicate business. My apology for undertaking it is not only the natural interest which Americans must feel in an historic event to which Americans have made so great a contribution; there is a very practical reason why it may be useful to crystallize now an interpretation of the nature of the understanding arrived at. This understanding contains no decision on the questions of principle which for more than sixty years have so frequently provoked bitter conflict in Mexico; it is nothing but a modus vivendi which depends thus far upon the state of mind of relatively few men. Within a short time these men will relinquish their authority. If the peace which they have made is to endure, their present state of mind must be transmitted to their successors. The imponderables are thus the essence of the matter. After three years of bitterness punctuated by violence, after twelve years of intermittent conflict, after a century of opposition, the spokesmen of the popular movement in Mexico and the leaders of the Episcopate have for the first time reached some basis of confidence in each other. That was the whole aim, and is the only result, of Mr. Morrow's mediation. There is no concordat between Church and State. There is no contract to fall back upon which any tribunal can apply if churchmen and politicians relapse into their former distrusts. It may be useful, therefore, to set down a record that will make it easier to remember the nature of the present understanding.


When Mr. Morrow went to Mexico City on October 23, 1927, the decision of the Mexican bishops to suspend their offices had been in effect for more than a year. This decision by the bishops was the outcome of a chain of events which began on February 5, 1926. That date was the anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution of 1917. Into that Constitution the revolutionaries who had overthrown Porfirio Diaz wrote their political philosophy and their aspirations. The powers of the State in relation to the Church were defined in Articles 3, 5, 27 and 130.

Article 3 forbade churches or ministers of any creed to establish or direct primary schools; Article 5 prohibited the existence of monastic orders; Article 24 prohibited the performance of all religious acts of a public nature outside of the buildings intended for that purpose, and these buildings were placed under the permanent supervision of the civil authorities. Article 27 confirmed the nationalization, already provided for in the previous constitution, of all church property and disqualified religious organizations from owning, directly or indirectly, any real estate; Article 130 denied the status of a legal person to parishes, dioceses, or religious associations, placed the priesthood in the position of a profession subject to regulation by the civil power, gave the civil power the right to determine the maximum number of ministers of religion, made it obligatory that priests should be native born Mexicans, compelled officiating ministers to register with the civil authorities, forbade religious periodicals to comment upon political events, and deprived ministers of religion of all political rights.

These provisions became the law of the land in February 1917, and the Mexican prelates immediately protested against them. Nine years passed, however, before the government made any serious effort to enforce the dicta of the Constitution. Throughout the term of President Obregon and for the first two years of President Calles' term there was no enforcement act and there were no penalties attached to the law. Benedict XV, though he had approved the protest of the bishops against the Constitution of 1917, pursued a temporizing policy, and President Obregon was evidently content to let the constitutional provisions stand as theoretical threats without carrying them further. The conflict, therefore, though it was irreconcilable in principle, remained dormant. Occasionally it became overt. One such occasion was the expulsion of the Apostolic Delegate, Mgr. Filippi, on January 17, 1923, for having broken the law against public acts of worship outside of churches by presiding at a great outdoor ceremony devoted to laying the cornerstone of a monument to "Christ, King of Mexico." But in this instance, though Mgr. Filippi was expelled, the Vatican avoided a complete break by allowing Mgr. Crespi, the Secretary of the Apostolic Delegation, to remain in Mexico. More than a year later an understanding was reached by Cardinal Gasparri and President Obregon's Foreign Minister, Aaron Saenz, in regard to the appointment of an Apostolic Delegate. The government agreed to permit him the use of the cipher, and in case of difficulty to demand his recall by the Holy See, instead of expelling him. The Vatican, in turn, agreed that in selecting bishops, ecclesiastics would be chosen who had not participated in political affairs. Following this agreement the Pope on December 18, 1924, appointed Mgr. Serafino Cimino the Apostolic Delegate.

General Calles succeeded General Obregon in January 1925. He declared that he did not consider himself bound by the agreement because it violated the spirit if not the letter of the Constitution. The relations between Church and State soon became much more strained. Various state legislatures enacted laws of an extremely anti-clerical character. Thus in the state of Tabasco a law was enacted in March 1925 forbidding priests who were unmarried and less than forty years of age to practice; in Yucatan the quota of priests allowed was limited to nine. A schismatic church, calling itself the Apostolic Mexican Church, was founded under the leadership of an unfrocked priest, and although it never amounted to very much, it was believed to have the backing of the government and the help of the Methodist missions. It was deeply resented by devout Catholics. In various parts of the country the schismatics tried to seize churches. There was looting and disorder. In March 1925 a militant organization of Catholics, known as the League for Religious Defense, was created to fight for the repeal of the religious articles of the Constitution. The new Apostolic Delegate, Mgr. Cimino, arrived on April 1, 1925, but after a short time left Mexico for Denver. The reason given for his departure was the state of his health, but there are well-informed persons who believe that Mgr. Cimino was too conciliatory to suit the more intransigent bishops. When he desired to return, President Calles refused permission. The Vatican continued, however, to avoid a break. It retained the Secretary of the Delegation, and the Pope in his Apostolic letter, Paterna Sane Solicitudo, dated February 2, 1926, exhorted the bishops to hold themselves "entirely aloof from every kind of political party or faction."

Nevertheless, two days after the date of this letter the event occurred which brought about the rupture of relations. On February 4, 1926, the Mexican newspaper El Universal sent a reporter to interview the aged Archbishop of Mexico, Mgr. Mora y del Rio. Whether the editor of El Universal was indulging in a mere bit of newspaper enterprise or whether he was moved by ulterior purposes I have never been able to learn. The fact is that the aged prelate was asked to say on the anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution whether the hierarchy still adhered to its protest made nine years before. He replied that "the doctrine of the church is invariable, because it is divinely revealed truth. . . ." He confirmed a report that "a campaign against the laws which are unjust and contrary to Natural Law should be undertaken. . . ." He declared that "the Episcopacy, clergy and Catholics, do not recognize Articles 3, 5, 27 and 130 of the existing Constitution, and we shall fight them."

The government immediately replied that the attitude of the Archbishop constituted rebellion, and that the facts were being presented to the Attorney General for action to uphold the law. On February 10 the authorities arrested seventeen Spanish priests who were officiating at churches in Mexico City and expelled them summarily. A nation-wide hunt for foreign-born priests was instituted. The government was evidently in a state of nerves. To understand its action one must recall that in the precise moment when the Archbishop was defying Articles 27 and 130, the United States Government was complaining about other provisions of these same articles because of their bearing upon the claims of the oil companies. Interventionist propaganda was active in Washington, and there can be no doubt that General Calles and his supporters conjured up the spectre of a repetition of the events under the Emperor Maximilian when a foreign power with economic grievances combined with the clerical party to suppress the popular movement led by Juarez. Circumstances conspired to convince President Calles that if domestic insurrection leading to foreign intervention was to be avoided there must be a show of power and that therefore the Constitution should be energetically enforced. This determination persisted although Archbishop Mora y del Rio repudiated the more militant parts of his interview and although the legal proceedings against him were dropped. The government, according to President Calles, closed 73 Catholic convents and expelled 185 foreign-born priests.

In the midst of this tension the new Apostolic Delegate, Mgr. George Caruana, arrived in Mexico on March 3, 1926. Mgr. Caruana was born in Malta, was a naturalized American citizen, and had served as chaplain in the American Army during the World War. It is said that Mgr. Caruana publicly advised the clergy to resist the laws. I have been unable to confirm this allegation. President Calles, however, distrusted him and ordered an inquiry into the conditions under which he had entered Mexico. It was charged, and believed by the government, that he had represented himself to the frontier officials as a Protestant professor entering Mexico as a tourist. The government certainly believed that the selection of an American citizen was an effort to involve the State Department in the religious controversy. Mgr. Caruana was expelled on May 10, 1926, for violating the immigration laws.

The tension increased. The government proceeded to draft regulations laying down penalties for the purpose of enforcing religious laws. On June 21, 1926, the presidential decree was issued to take effect on July 31 and for the first time since the Constitution came into effect the government had legal power to punish disobedience to its provisions. This decree did not change the law; it provided that violations of the law should be deemed misdemeanors punishable by specific penalties.

The Episcopate was now confronted with what appeared to be indisputable evidence of the government's intention to proceed with the enforcement of the laws. It became necessary to decide whether priests in charge of churches should or should not register with the civil authorities. In the early days of July 1926 the bishops were by no means unanimous as to the course which they should adopt. There were some who counselled open rebellion; others advised passive resistance; some desired purely constitutional effort to obtain amendments of the law. It is said that at first a majority of the bishops wished to temporize, and that the Vatican through the Secretary of the Apostolic Delegation advised this policy. However, at the meeting of July 11 the more intransigent bishops prevailed and the decision was taken to refuse registration and to suspend worship; the Holy See was informed that the absence of orders to the contrary would be considered as approval of the decision. Mgr. Crespi, the Secretary to the Apostolic Delegation, continued his efforts at conciliation; the Vatican, though it had apparently decided that it must approve a unanimous decision, nevertheless made an effort at the end of July to obtain some relaxation of the rigors of the law. But the government was in an irreconcilable mood. Thereupon, on July 27, the Holy See condemned the presidential decree of June 21. On July 29, the government ordered Mgr. Crespi to leave the country on twenty-four hours' notice. Worship was suspended by the clergy on August 1; the government, for its part, left the churches open and in charge of committees of the faithful. The League for Religious Defense declared a boycott. There were great anti-clerical demonstrations by the labor unions.

Even after the rupture an effort was made to repair it. Through the medium of Eduardo Mestre, a prominent lay Mexican, a conference was arranged for August 21 between President Calles and two of the bishops, Mgr. Diaz and Mgr. Ruiz. At this discussion the prelates on their side disclaimed any revolutionary intent and the President on his part stated that the registration of priests had a purely administrative purpose in connection with the use of religious edifices which were owned by the State but entrusted to the priests. The committee of the bishops then issued a public statement which was published in El Universal on August 22 recounting this understanding and declaring that "the interview with the President was indeed satisfactory." This is an extremely important matter, for it will be seen when we come to the agreement reached three years later that it rests upon this same foundation. At this time, however, the understanding broke down. On the day after the bishops published their account of the interview with the President, he gave out an interview which, though literally correct and consistent with the bishops' statement, was presented in such a way as to seem like a repudiation of the understanding. The bishops, therefore, changed their decision and decided not to return to the churches. Thus each side believed that the other had repudiated the understanding, and the situation became deadlocked. There was an uprising of Catholics in the west; the situation became tremendously embittered. Another effort at conciliation by Sr. Mestre was begun in March 1927, but it failed because of a singularly atrocious attack on a passenger train near Guadalajara in which it was alleged that the Catholic rebels had participated. By a dramatic coincidence Sr. Mestre was a passenger on that train and was wounded in the attack. He made still one more attempt at conciliation a few months later, in August 1927. Again the government agreed that it would treat the registration as an administrative measure and would not use it to interfere with the spiritual offices of the clergy. The assurances were laid before the Mexican bishops assembled at San Antonio, Texas, who approved them with certain changes and transmitted their decision to the Vatican. In the midst of these promising negotiations, the Serrano-Gomez rebellion broke out. No reply was ever received from the Vatican by the negotiators.

At about this time Mr. Morrow arrived at his post in Mexico City.


This account of the principal events leading up to the rupture has been necessary, I think, in order to make clear the events which followed. From the point of view of the successful mediation which was at last accomplished they are significant chiefly on three points. They show, first, that in theory the contentions of Church and State were irreconcilable, for the State claimed the right, however much or little it might insist upon exercising it, of subjecting the Church to the civil power; second, that as a matter of practical administration a modus vivendi was possible as early as three weeks after the suspension of worship; and third, that agreement on a modus vivendi was frustrated again and again by the distrust felt by the government and the prelates towards each other and by the intransigent supporters of both.

The task of the mediator, therefore, was to replace distrust with confidence, to create a will to peace which would impel the leaders on both sides to discipline and subdue their intransigent supporters. Seizing every advantage of favorable circumstances, this is what Mr. Morrow did. It took him about eighteen months of unremitting effort.

To understand the nature of this distrust, and how it was dispelled, it is necessary to understand the deposit left in the memory of the Mexican people by their peculiar social history. I am referring not to the objective history, not to what actually took place sub specie eternitatis, but what Mexicans now think took place. It must be plain, I think, to anyone who has known the Mexicans implicated in this struggle that there were two great historical traditions current among them which determined their attitude towards the question of Church and State. There was the tradition of the revolutionary party and there was the tradition of the ecclesiastical party.

According to the revolutionary tradition, the Church had been throughout Mexican history the ally of the foreign conqueror and the great feudal landlords. I have not the space here to set forth the tradition in all its detail. The government in 1927 published a volume of nearly five hundred pages ("La Iglesia y El Stado en Mexico," by Lic. Alfonso Toro) which on this point sets forth the whole creed of the Revolutionary Party. Few Mexicans, I imagine, have read it, but all the literate revolutionists are deeply impressed with certain notable features of the story it tells. They recall that more than a century ago, at the time of the rebellion against Spain, the two priests who led the national forces, Father Hidalgo and Father Morelos, were excommunicated. They believe that the Mexican Catholic Church headed the movement which put the Emperor Iturbide in power, and that in 1833 it took an active part in overthrowing Gomez Farias because he had obtained the passage of laws depriving the clergy of their control of education, abolishing the collection of tithes and the enforcement of monastic vows by the civil authorities. They recall that the slogan of the Conservative Party in that counterrevolution was religion y fueros (religion and privileges). They recall that during the war with the United States, when the Mexican Congress tried to raise fifteen million pesos by the sale or mortgage of church property, the clergy closed the churches in Mexico City and incited the troops to revolt. They charge the clergy with fomenting the counter-revolution of 1852, which established the dictatorship of Santa Anna. They charge them with leading the counter-revolution against the Constitution of 1857, and they point out that the clergy threatened to excommunicate all who swore allegiance to that Constitution. They argue, therefore, that the Church has been in opposition to the constitutions of Mexico for seventy years. They recall that when the popular party won the civil war after 1857, members of the clerical party led the intrigue in Europe which established the empire of Maximilian. They insist that the clergy opposed the Madero revolution of 1911, that it supported the counter-revolution under General Huerta, that it opposed the popular revolution led by Carranza, Obregon, and Calles.

These memories were in the minds of the revolutionists who drafted the Constitution of 1917 and the laws pursuant to it. It will be seen that they provide a perfect basis for a highly nationalistic and anti-clerical policy, and the laws must be read with this in mind. They are quite evidently laws of war. They are an assumption of the unlimited right of the civil power to crush any ecclesiastical organization; and their justification in the minds of the revolutionists was that the Church in Mexico had been always, and was then, identified with reaction at home and intervention from abroad. Since the government during the ensuing nine years did little to use its power, the purpose of the laws seems plainly to have been not to extirpate the Catholic faith but to have power to crush counter-revolutionary agitation if and when it started. It is highly significant that the threat to enforce the laws coincided with the propaganda of the oil companies in the United States, and it is no less significant that as early as August 1927 the government was assuring the prelates that the threat to crush the Church would not be carried out if they dissociated themselves from political rebellion. The conclusion seems to me inescapable that the Constitution was not meant seriously to define the normal relations of Church and State, but that it was designed to empower the government in emergencies. The government, we must remember, was satisfied that the sympathies of the prelates were with the great landlords and with the interventionists in the United States. From my own talks with at least three of the prelates I am satisfied that in 1927 this view was correct.

Against these beliefs of the revolutionary party must be set the beliefs of the clerical party. They too had a philosophy of Mexican history which determined their conduct. It is difficult for Americans, I think, to do full justice to their point of view, because it rested upon a denial of all the premises which practically every American takes for granted. The Mexican clergy and the Mexican aristocracy of Spanish descent has been for more than two hundred years isolated from the main influences which have shaped the western world. The Reformation apparently made no impression whatever upon Mexico. The ideas of the French Revolution made none upon the upper classes. The general conception of the world held by the prelates was fairly well represented by the Syllabus of 1864, and in their social outlook they assumed that the feudal order was part of the nature of things. They could not conceive of a righteous society in which the Church was not the dominant power. Their whole history confirmed their conviction of the inherent righteousness of that state of affairs which Lord Acton described in 1868 when he wrote that "The largest landowner in Mexico was the Church; and as there was no religious toleration, it was the church of the whole nation, the only teacher of the moral law to the natives, the sole channel through which the majority of the people had access to the civilization of Christendom."

Believing that this was the proper order of human society, the clergy had resisted the popular movement at all times, and they persuaded themselves that the popular leaders from Juarez to Calles were the lieutenants of Satan. The defense of privilege was in their minds a defense of the faith itself, and in this atmosphere the jacobinism of the revolutionists was countered with fanaticism. There can be no doubt that in 1926 and 1927 the majority of the prelates looked for a solution only through the overthrow of the government. There was little distinction in their minds between the laws directed against the Church and the laws directed against the great landlords. For prelates and landlords constituted one social class with the same social outlook and they were unmistakably committed to the hope of counter-revolution.

It thus transpires that the crux of the conflict was not really the status of the Church as the guardian of souls but the position of prelates and clergy on the burning question of whether the revolution was to survive. The laws in a country like Mexico are flexible in the extreme. Political theories about the relation of Church and State are of consequence only when more mundane matters are at stake. The real question was whether the clergy would accept the revolution as an accomplished fact and whether the government would believe that the clergy had accepted it.

The mediation undertaken by Mr. Morrow turned on this question.


In November 1927 when Mr. Morrow arrived in Mexico City to present his credentials civil war had been going on for a year. In the summer of 1926 the League for Religious Defense had proclaimed a boycott intended "to paralyze the social and economic life of the nation," and this boycott had been endorsed by the Committee of the Bishops. On September 24 the Chamber of Deputies rejected the Catholic petition for amendments to the Constitution. Armed bands, carrying the banner of "Viva Cristo Rey" appeared in various parts of the country, and many acts of violence were committed by these bands and by the government's troops and its supporters. It would be unprofitable to attempt to describe the series of atrocities which followed, or to attempt to separate fact from fiction in the reports of them that have come down to us. There can be no doubt that both sides were responsible for acts of cruelty. The government on its part was convinced that these acts of violence and rebellion were approved and directed by the higher clergy; the clergy were convinced that the government approved and directed the violence committed against the Catholics.

On the evidence available it seems to me that neither the clergy nor the government can be exonerated, and, on the other hand, that there were at all times moderate influences in both camps which sincerely deplored what was happening. Thus on April 30, 1927, Archbishop Ruiz as spokesman for the exiled bishops in the United States denied that the Church approved the acts of the Catholic rebels; on the other hand, Archbishop Gonzales y Valencia of Durango in a pastoral letter from Rome, dated February 11, 1927, had said: "To our Catholic sons risen in arms for the defense of their social and religious rights, after having thought at great length before God and having consulted the sagest theologians of the city of Rome, we should say to you: Be tranquil in your consciences and receive our benedictions." Writing further of his meeting with the Pope, the Archbishop said: "We have seen him moved on hearing the story of your struggle, we have seen him bless your resistance, approve all your acts, and admire all your heroisms." It will be noted that this pastoral letter approving the rebellion came two months earlier than Archbishop Ruiz's statement of disapproval. It appears that when the Holy See realized the meaning of the armed resistance organized by the League for Religious Defense it ordered the Mexican bishops to repudiate the League. But not all of the bishops and clergy seem to have obeyed the instructions of the Holy See. To students of Mexican history such disobedience is not a novelty. Incidents could be cited to show that Rome itself has frequently had serious difficulty in maintaining discipline among the Mexican clergy. Thus one must conclude that the rebellion was carried on with the disapproval of the central authorities of the Church but with considerable approval from scattered local members of the hierarchy.

The government also had difficulty in disciplining its supporters, and its sincerity in respect to the illegal violence of the troops in 1926-1927 may be doubted. There were raids, looting, and executions in disregard of the Constitution and of all considerations of justice and humanity, and there is no sufficient evidence that the government discountenanced them. Religious wars are notoriously savage, and this one in Mexico was no exception.

It reached its climax just as Mr. Morrow took up his post in Mexico City. There had been an unsuccessful attempt on the life of General Obregon. The police seized four men, one of them a much beloved priest, Father Pro, and executed them summarily. That the four victims were active organizers of the rebellion seems to be established; that any or all of them were implicated in the crime for which they were executed has never been satisfactorily proved. The government did not conduct a public trial.

It was an inauspicious moment to begin the process of mediation. Yet it had to be undertaken. For the civil war in Mexico had indirect but profound effects on the relations between Mexico and the United States. American lives and interests were constantly in danger because of the disorder. The policy of adjustment which Ambassador Morrow was entrusted to carry out could come to nothing as long as Mexico was inflamed by religious war. In the United States not alone the Catholic population but all other persons of sense and sensibility were deeply concerned that the conflict should be settled. Before his departure for Mexico Mr. Morrow had been requested by Cardinal Hayes and by Judge O'Brien to use his good offices. Interest, expediency, and sheer human considerations impelled the Ambassador to do what he could within the limits of official propriety.

Since the essence of the conflict was the deep distrust of the Catholic clergy and the Revolutionary politicians each for the other, it was necessary for Mr. Morrow to do two things: he had to build a bridge of personal confidence between President Calles on the one side and the Catholic clergy on the other; he had to dispel completely from the minds of both sides the central idea that the fate of the social revolution in Mexico was an issue in the religious conflict.

It was not possible to begin with a direct meeting between President Calles and a representative of the Church. The distrust was too great. Mr. Morrow began, therefore, by establishing personal confidence between President Calles and himself and between Father John J. Burke and himself. In this he succeeded immediately, and therefore from the outset a means of communication was prepared which might be used later when circumstances were auspicious. Through his personal relationships with President Calles and Father Burke, Mr. Morrow was able to explore the controversy, and certain conclusions soon became quite clear.They were that on the plane of theoretical principle the conflict was insoluble; that on the plane of practical adjustment a modus vivendi was possible on the same terms as those which President Calles and the two bishops, Mgr. Ruiz and Mgr. Diaz, had discussed in August 1926 when the conflict had just started. The problem was to allay personal distrust by removing the question of the fate of the social revolution, and thus to achieve peace by means of a modus vivendi. The clarity and completeness with which at the very beginning Mr. Morrow conceived the exact nature of the settlement which was arrived at more than eighteen months later is most impressive. When one realizes that Mr. Morrow was a stranger to Mexico and without previous experience in dealing with the Catholic Church, his immediate success in envisaging the whole problem, which it took eighteen months of patient and resolute efforts to solve, must be set down as a triumph of the trained historical imagination.


The period which I am now going to discuss extends from October 1927 to June 1929. It begins in Washington before Mr. Morrow's departure to take up his post, that is to say just after Father Burke called upon him at the instance of Cardinal Hayes and Judge O'Brien. It ends at the National Palace in Mexico City with the signing of the modus vivendi by Archbishop Ruiz. To comprehend it one must take account of two concurrent chains of events: the negotiation by responsible individuals in Mexico City, Washington and Rome, and the larger movement of historic circumstances which accompanied the negotiations and affected them. The pattern is intricate and I shall try only to disengage what appear to be the most significant motifs.

It was evident from the first exploration of the problem that the question which had produced the decision to suspend worship presented no insoluble conflict of principle. This was the question of whether the clergy would obey the law by registering with the civil authorities. Father Burke made it plain at once that there was nothing in the canon law which made registration as such intolerable. What was intolerable was the threat that the civil authorities in registering priests would either assert the right not to register those priests who had been designated by the bishop of the diocese or would assert the right to register schismatics and outsiders. Obviously, if it was the purpose of the law to place this power in the hands of the civil authority, then the discipline and the constitution of the Church would be destroyed. The law itself was not clear. It could be read so as to mean either that it confined the civil power to the making of a purely statistical record or as a grant of power to intervene in the most intimate internal affairs of the Church. President Calles had, to be sure, told the bishops on August 21, 1926, that the law would be administered only for purposes of record, but the events of the civil war had so embittered men's minds that these assurances had either been forgotten or were disbelieved. Mr. Morrow, however, satisfied himself very soon that the interpretation of August 1926 was still valid. He knew, therefore, that on the immediate issue a meeting of minds between President Calles and Father Burke was possible.

It was no longer possible, however, to settle the conflict by agreement as to the interpretation of one law. Too much blood had been shed. If agreement on the issue of the registration law was to have any lasting value many profound antagonisms and preconceptions had to be removed. It was necessary to convince the government that the clergy would dissociate themselves from counter-revolution and foreign intervention; it was necessary to convince the clergy that a restoration of their historic privileges was impossible, but that if they accepted the social revolution as an accomplished fact they could recover the essential liberties of the Church and could proceed with their spiritual mission.

The government's fear and the clergy's hope of foreign intervention were decisively removed by the action of the United States Government. In selecting Mr. Morrow for Ambassador, President Coolidge quite plainly intended to end the destructive drift towards intervention by the United States and to substitute a constructive policy of conciliation. The settlement of the oil controversy is in itself no part of this story, but it had at least two immensely important consequences in the religious conflict. It convinced both President Calles and all but the most unintelligent of his opponents that American intervention need no longer be considered. This relieved the Mexican Government of its greatest fear, and therefore, of the greatest motive to violent action. It also compelled the opponents of the régime, both lay and clerical, gradually to face the fact that they could not count on outside assistance in carrying on rebellion against the government. The removal of the interventionist threat cut the ground from under the intransigents in both camps.

It is not a mere coincidence, I think, that the first meeting between President Calles and Father Burke took place within two weeks of the public announcement of the settlement of the Mexican-American oil controversy. It may be something of a coincidence that the two events came so very close together, for it had taken weeks of negotiation to arrange the visit. But it is a fact that these negotiations became successful concurrently with the later and successful stages of the discussion about oil. For the settlement of the oil question altered the mood of the government, and established its complete confidence in the Ambassador and in anyone in whom the Ambassador had confidence. When Father Burke and his collaborator, Mr. Montavon, arrived in Vera Cruz on April 4, 1928, their reception had been well prepared. The details of this historic conference will be told when the actors present write their memoirs. It is known, however, that letters were exchanged that day between Father Burke and President Calles and that they are the same in substance as, even if they were not identical in language with, the public declarations made fifteen months later by President Portes Gil and Archbishops Ruiz and Diaz. Therefore, we may conclude that the outcome of this first conference was an understanding that a settlement would have to rest, not upon technical details, but upon broad assurances of toleration and coöperation between Church and State.

The Vera Cruz conference did not result in a settlement, for Father Burke, though he was acting with the knowledge and approval of his superiors, did not have final power to speak for the Church. It was necessary to obtain the approval of the Mexican bishops who were in exile and scattered, and finally, of course, the approval of the Holy See. Ten of the twenty-nine bishops met in San Antonio at the end of April. If I am correctly informed, none of them, unless they included Archbishop Ruiz, which is not altogether certain, knew of the Vera Cruz conference and the Calles-Burke letters. The bishops voted unanimously that they were not so intransigent against the existing government but that they could return to Mexico and resume their offices on conditions which the Holy See approved. They drew up suggestions dealing with such matters as education, the use of church properties, and amnesty, but these were in the form of suggestions and not of demands. The significant fact is that at least a third of the Episcopate was ready to dissociate the cause of the Church from political counter-revolution. The Mexican Government, in its turn, whether by coincidence or arrangement I do not know, made a striking public gesture of conciliation. Speaking at a patriotic festival on April 15 in the presence of President Calles and General Obregon, and obviously with their approval, Dr. Puig Casauranc, the Minister of Education, said:

And this revolution which has been converted into a government is completely respectful of religious beliefs and it is absolutely false that it is trying to tear from Mexican hearts the beliefs that they have had for many centuries back. It is false, completely, that it wants to erase the religion which was bequeathed to us by our ancestors and still less true that it is trying to cause to disappear the tradition of the whole race to adore the Virgin of Guadalupe, that divine image which is cherished in the hearts of all good Mexicans and which is like an infinite longing for betterment.

Thus, in the month of April, there had been a satisfactory conference between Father Burke and President Calles, a moderate vote by ten of the bishops, and a highly conciliatory public statement by a spokesman of the government. President Calles was then prevailed upon to receive Father Burke a second time, accompanied now not only by Mr. Montavon but by Archbishop Ruiz. Meetings took place in Mexico City from May 17 to May 19, 1928, and letters were written by the President and the Archbishop. These letters were not exchanged, pending approval from Rome. It was hoped that approval would be given by cablegram in order to permit the immediate resumption of services.

The approval was not given. Archbishop Ruiz was called to Rome, and departed on May 26. Considerable publicity attended Mgr. Ruiz's arrival in Paris, and there is some evidence that this provoked intransigent Mexicans residing in Rome to activity to prevent a settlement.


While matters were drifting in this fashion, a fanatic named Toral assassinated General Obregon. This was on July 16, 1928. The presidential succession was thrown into doubt. The government in its first excitement made wild charges against the Catholics; the Osservatore Romano published a series of bitter and grossly uninformed articles charging President Calles himself with the murder of his friend. Thus the old enmities, which had been so nearly allayed during the spring, flared up again, and it seemed as if the hopes aroused at the Burke-Calles and the Ruiz-Calles conferences had ended in disaster. But in the midst of the hysteria the moderating influences of Ambassador Morrow and Father Burke prevailed. The government, after a first outburst, toned down its subsequent statements and refrained from replying to the attacks in the Vatican newspaper. Instead of shooting the assassin and his alleged conspirators summarily, as had been done in the case of Father Pro, the government delayed and held a public trial. Certain of the Mexican and American clergy issued statements which took the sting out of the Osservatore Romano's articles. Thus by one means and another complete disaster was avoided. The settlement was delayed but it was not rendered impossible. In this ordeal by fire the inherent soundness of the progress made in the mediation was tested and proved.

Until November no further progress was made. Then Archbishop Ruiz returned to Washington from Rome bringing with him the Vatican's views on a settlement. They were moderate views, but owing to the trial of Obregon's assassin the atmosphere in Mexico was not favorable to a renewal of the negotiations, especially since the Holy See desired additional assurances from the government. President Calles was retiring from office on December 1, and he was not willing to go beyond his assurances to Father Burke and Archbishop Ruiz.

Matters drifted for some months after the inauguration of the new provisional President, Portes Gil, and on March 3 the military rebellion led by Topete, Aguirre and Escobar broke out. By order of President Hoover, who had just been inaugurated, the United States Government acted promptly and decisively to discourage it. The Catholic authorities in the United States immediately took steps to discourage Catholics from showing sympathy for the rebels by pointing out that among the rebels were military adventurers, some of whom had committed violent attacks upon Catholics, one of them being the executioner of Father Pro. In Mexico itself there was no indication of Catholic support for the rebellion. Thus the tragedy of the rebellion proved to be a blessing in disguise. For it demonstrated to the government that the clergy would not capitalize the hazards of counter-revolution, and it impelled the government to make friendly statements. The clergy, for their part, began to issue condemnations of violence. All of this led up to public declarations in the press by President Portes Gil on May 2 and by Archbishop Ruiz on May 3, which may be summarized in the words of Mgr. Ruiz that "the religious conflict was not motivated by any cause which may not be corrected by men of sincere good will."

The President replied in a statement published May 8, welcoming Mgr. Ruiz's words and saying that "if Archbishop Ruiz should desire to discuss with me the method of securing the cooperation in the moral effort for the betterment of the Mexican people which he desires, I shall have no objection to conferring with him on the subject."

At this time Father Edmund Walsh of Georgetown University was in Mexico City at the request of the Pope; he had come to examine and report upon the situation. Permission was asked of the Holy See to proceed with negotiations for a settlement, and on June 8 Archbishop Ruiz accompanied by Bishop Diaz arrived in Mexico City. Assisted by Father Walsh and by Senor Cruchaga, a Chilean who had the use of the Chilean cable code for communication with the Vatican, the negotiations with the government were carried on, Mr. Morrow acting as mediator.

The churchmen decided that they would rest their case upon the broad assurances given at Vera Cruz more than a year before by President Calles to Father Burke; President Portes Gil took the position that he would stand upon the same ground as President Calles. The prelates and the President met on June 12 and again on June 13. There was very strong pressure from the outside to prevent a settlement. At least one state legislature passed resolutions, and there were protests from labor organizations and Masonic lodges; the prelates, too, were subjected to pressure from extremists. Nevertheless, an agreement was reached on June 21, 1929. It took the form of two public statements, one by the President and one by Archbishop Ruiz.

As a result, worship was resumed in the churches and amnesty was accorded to the Catholic rebels who were in prison and to those still in the field who would come in and deliver up their arms.


The statement of the President cites the belief of the prelates that the provision of the laws requiring the registration of ministers and the provision which grants the separate states the right to determine the maximum number of ministers "threaten the identity of the Church by giving the State the control of its spiritual offices." He then records the assurances given him by the bishops that they "are animated by a sincere patriotism and that they desire to resume public worship if this can be done consistently with their loyalty to the Mexican Republic and their consciences." He then declares "publicly and very clearly" that it is not the purpose of the Constitution, nor of the laws, nor of the government, "to destroy the identity of the Catholic Church or of any other, or to interfere in any way with its spiritual functions." He says that he is disposed to hear "from any person, be he a dignitary of some church or merely a private individual, any complaints in regard to injustices arising from undue application of the laws." He then declares in regard to certain provisions of the law "which have been misunderstood that: 1, the government cannot "register those who have not been named by the hierarchial superior of the religious creed in question or in accordance with its regulations"; that 2, religious instruction may be given "within church confines"; and that 3, the clergy have the constitutional right to petition "for the amendment, repeal or passage of any law." The concurrent statement by Archbishop Ruiz records that "the conversations have been marked by a spirit of mutual good will and respect" and that as a consequence of the President's statement "the Mexican clergy will resume religious services pursuant to the laws in force."

Two days later in a newspaper interview the President stated categorically that the result reached is the same as that "which in the month of April 1928 was on the point of being brought to a happy conclusion between Father John J. Burke and Archbishop Ruiz on the one hand, and President Calles on the other." He stated that this would appear in the files of the archives of the Presidency of the Republic. Since these files are not open to public inspection, an exact comparison of the documents cannot be made, but I do not believe that it is far from the truth to say that while the Burke-Calles and the Ruiz-Calles letters are identical in substance and in principle, the Portes Gil-Ruiz statements do make somewhat more explicit the assurances which were implicit in the previous exchanges.

The discussion as to whether the ultimate agreement differs in any substantial respect from the earlier agreements does not turn, as perhaps at first it may seem to do, upon a mere question of historical accuracy. It is the central point in the interpretation of the whole conflict. The conflict lasted from August 1, 1926, to June 21, 1929. In those three years there were three occasions when representatives of the State and the Church met and arrived at what seemed to them the basis of a working agreement. The first occasion was August 21, 1926, in a conference between President Calles and Monsignori Ruiz and Diaz. The second occasion was in April and May of 1928, in the Burke-Calles and then the Burke-Ruiz-Calles conferences. The third occasion was in June 1929 in the Ruiz-Portes Gil conferences. If the record showed that the last conference resulted in substantially different agreements from those which preceded it, the interpreter of this historic affair would have to decide whether the State or the Church had made the greater concessions. But if the facts are as I have stated them to be, if the three years of conflict resulted in an understanding on substantially the same basis as that which was arrived at three weeks after the conflict started, then the task of the interpreter is to decide why it took so long to get back to the starting point. Why did President Portes Gil and Archbishop Ruiz succeed in making peace in 1929 on terms which failed to bring peace in 1926?

My own view of the answer to this question has already been indicated. It is that the crux of the conflict was not the divergence of principle as to the status of the Church and the State. There was not really an insoluble conflict as to the meaning of the laws. The crux of the conflict was whether the Mexican clergy would continue to oppose or would accept and coöperate with the régime resulting from the social revolution. The three years' conflict did not alter the text of the laws. But it altered profoundly the social policy of the Mexican hierarchy. For nearly a hundred years they had identified the interests of the Church with a Mexican state dominated by the great landlords and by foreign interests; they had regarded the revolutionists against the conservative state, from Father Hidalgo through Benito Juarez to Carranza and Obregon and Calles, as the enemies of the Church. And because the Church was identified with the conservative state and with foreign intervention, the revolutionists became in practice enemies of the clergy. In the three years' conflict the Mexican clergy came to realize that a restoration of the old social order was impossible, that American intervention was no solution, that the new régime, regardless of palace rebellions and military revolts, was likely to endure. During their exile in the United States under the wise tutoring of liberal and far-sighted American priests they realized that the Catholic Church did not need, in fact was far greater without, the support of a privileged feudal order. Thus the Mexican hierarchy achieved a new orientation. It ceased to identify itself with the small class of great landlords who had been overthrown by the revolution, and learned to identify itself with the aspirations of the common people. In a public statement issued immediately after the settlement, Father Edmund A. Walsh said: "The language and spirit of these declarations place the relations of the Church and State in Mexico on sure foundations of mutual respect, mutual coöperation and a common sharing of fundamental rights by all Mexican citizens."

In this new orientation is to be found the significance of the settlement and the only possible guarantee that it will last. The Mexican Church has started to become a democratic church. With that change of allegiance, the powers vested in the government by the Constitution and the laws cease to have any real significance. They were war powers directed against a hierarchy which was inveterately hostile to the new régime and threatened its overthrow. Against a hierarchy which accepts a new régime such as Mexico has now been promised, they will not be used, and in the course of time will either be forgotten or repealed.

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  • WALTER LIPPMANN, Editor of the New York World; author of "A Preface to Morals," "The Stakes of Diplomacy," and other volumes
  • More By Walter Lippmann