From ............ National Catholic Reporter

June 14, 1996

page 12

By BILL and PATTY COLEMAN Special to the National Catholic Reporter

CUERNAVACA, Mexico - Mexico's economic and political turmoil was edged off the front pages of the nation's newspapers when the guardian of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe for 33 years denied the reality of the apparition and the existence of Blessed Juan Diego to whom the Virgin appeared.

The controversy erupted May 25 when 30Dias [30 Days], the Spanish edition of the Italian journal 30Giorni, reported that Guillermo Schulenberg, abbot of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, had denied in an interview both the historical reality of the Guadalupe apparition and the existence of the poor indigenous man, Juan Diego, to whom the Virgin is believed to have appeared in 1531.

[Roman Catholic] Church insiders, however, had long known that Schulenberg denied both the apparition and the existence of Juan Diego and that he had fought against the beatification of Juan Diego, which took place May 6, 1990, during Pope John Paul II's second visit to Mexico.

In interviews with scholars and clerics, the more insistent question was why 30Dias published the story at this time. Many pointed to the behind-the-scenes struggle between Schulenberg and Mexico City Archbishop Norberto Rivera Carrera. Schulenberg reportedly is the only person who knows how much revenue the basilica takes in and is the sole distributor of the funds; Rivera, it has been widely reported here, wants to take control of the basilica.

More than money is involved. The pulpit of the basilica has a special meaning in the culture. Anyone who speaks from it holds particular sway among the poor

Rivera has repeatedly called for the resignation of the 80-year-old abbot and demanded that the archdiocese exercise direct control over the revenues of the basilica, reportedly more than $1 million dollars a month.

Schulenberg has steadfastly refused to discuss either the finances of the basilica or retiring, taking his case to Rome in April of this year. He insists he was given a lifetime appointment by Pope John XXIII.

The animosity between the abbot and the Mexico City archdiocese has even deeper roots. Long a close friend and confidant of Bishop Girolamo Prigione, the papal nuncio to Mexico for 18 years, Schulenberg and Prigione have together called for the creation of a new diocese, La Villa, separate from the Mexico City archdiocese, in which the basilica would be the cathedral. Despite objections by most of the Mexican hierarchy, Schulenberg and Prigione held their ground and continued to lobby Vatican officials for their plan.

According to press reports, the Vatican said the pope was leaving the matter in the hands of the Mexican hierarchy. Many believe Schulenberg will be forced to retire before the feast of Guadalupe, Dec. 12, when as many as 3 million pilgrims crowd the site of the apparition. The 30Dias article was generally seen as another attack by Rivera's forces on the aging abbot and indirectly on Prigione who is slated to retire within the next year when he reaches 75.

For more than a century, the "Guadalupe question" has been debated by Mexico's intelligentsia with prestigious authorities on both sides, but the story's hold on the Mexican people cannot be denied. As far back as colonial days, the image, often identified with the Aztec goddess Tonatzin, was a symbol of indigenous identity in the struggle against the Spanish. It was the banner of Fr. Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla and Fr. Jose' Maria Morelos as they led the 1810 fight for Mexican independence, and it was the flag of the Zapatista rebels in the revolution of 1910. Cesar Chavez used the Guadalupe image as the symbol of his farm workers in the United States in the 1960s.

According to Jesuit Fr. Antonio Roqueni Ornelas, then legal counsel of the Mexico City archdiocese, President Carlos Salinas de Gortari intervened in 1990 and asked both Schulenberg and Prigione to withdraw their objections to the beatification. They complied.