Courtesy Reuters

Roots of the Mexican Church Conflict

"THERE is no persecution of the Church in Mexico, but all religious organizations must confine their activities to spiritual affairs," asserts President Lazaro Cardenas. The declaration is supported by ex-President Emilio Portes Gil, ranking member of the Cabinet. "Definitely," he says, "this government is not opposed to religion." According to him, the current controversy "is due solely to the rebellious attitude of the Catholic clergy, which continues to aspire to a worldly or temporal mission denied to all religions by the Constitution." Garrido Canabal, until recently Minister of Agriculture, and long a bitter opponent of the church and all its works, has just been sent into exile. He it was who named his three sons Lenin, Lucifer and Satan, and while Governor of Tabasco ordered that church images be seized and burned and that crosses be removed from monuments and graveyards.

On the other hand, ex-President Plutarco Elias Calles, still in his retirement "the strong man of Mexico," avows that the state program of education is "anti-religious." The National Revolutionary Party, the only one of importance in the republic and the one which dominates the government in power, has often provided evidence to support this view. At the party convention in Queretaro in December 1933 a Tabasco delegate declared amid applause: "God exists only in books, by which the priests exploit the poor! Mexico wants no God and our Party wants no God!"

Similar contrasted declarations by government officials and by party leaders might be quoted indefinitely. They are not so contradictory as at first sight appears. The milder statements must be strictly construed. The apologists for the government declare that they have no quarrel with religion but they do not pretend that they have no controversy with religious organizations. The more extreme radicals make no such differentiation. Both groups are alike intent on reducing the influence of religious activities in the social life of the nation.

The bitterness of the conflict now in progress is the less easy to understand because

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