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

September 9, 1994

page 10


Nobel Peace Prize nominee Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia may once again be facing the wrath of Vatican conservatives disgruntled with the role he has played in advocating for the impoverished indigenous people of Mexico's southern state of Chiapas.

Sources close to diocesan officials in Ruiz's San Cristobal de las Casas diocese say they expect their bishop to head to Mexico City soon to receive a letter from the Vatican that may contain one of three messages - a request for Ruiz's resignation, advisory of his transfer to another location or news of the appointment of a conservative coadjutor bishop in the diocese.

The letter would be the latest chapter in an ongoing battle between [Roman Catholic bishop] Ruiz and archconservative [Roman Catholic Archbishop] Prigione, who is said to be allied with hard-liners in the Mexican government, who want the actions of the San Cristobal bishop tempered.

The tug of war first snapped when Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, the prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops, requested Ruiz's resignation last October. Although the charges made against Ruiz were not officially dropped, it appeared that officials in Rome had backed off the matter in recent months.

At the time of Gantin's first letter, Ruiz received overwhelming support from the indigenous people of his diocese, popular movements and liberal [Roman] Catholics worldwide. The Mexican episcopal conference also stood behind him, backing him more intensely when he was appointed mediator between the government and the EZLN, the Zapatista National Liberation Army, after the rebels rose up on Jan. 1.

The statement from San Cristobal sources that Ruiz may soon go to Mexico City to face a new communique from Rome followed articles published in two Mexican dailies Aug. 29 and 30. The reports said Ruiz would soon receive a letter from Gantin.

Citing Vatican sources who leaked the news, Mexico's El Financiero daily said although the actual content of the letter has not been revealed, it constitutes a "plan" to remove Ruiz from the San Cristobal diocese because of "doctrinal and pastoral errors."

A spokesperson from Prigione's office in Mexico City denied the reports. "We know nothing. El Financiero has more information than we do," the nuncio's representative told NCR. Fr. David Mendez, the chancellor at the San Cristobal diocese, said officials there "know nothing about the existence of this letter or what it may contain."

But another representative from a church in San Cristobal said the diocese does have information of a "pending communique" from the Vatican. "Everyone is calm, though," he said. "We maintain our trust in the transparency of the gospel, the Good News that comes from the poor and the Indians, and from them is given to the world," he added.

A source from Mexico's embassy in the Holy See said they had not been notified of any Vatican action in relation to Ruiz. "The last we heard was Ruiz made his ad limina visit during which good will for peace in Chiapas was expressed," the embassy spokesperson said.

A San Cristobal source close to Ruiz, however, said the bishop is "concerned." "Samuel expected a blow sometime but not this soon," he said. Of the three messages the Vatican might send, the source said that "it is highly unlikely they will simply remove Ruiz ."

"If they request his resignation, I think Samuel will defend himself. We will begin the canonical process of appeal," the source added.

Andres Aubry, a historian from the San Cristobal church archives, said he fears the Mexican bishops will not offer Ruiz substantial support if resignation is requested this time. He also said the ruling PRI, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, is irked with Ruiz because of his criticism of fraudulent practices during the Aug. 21 presidential elections. PRI maintained its 65-year grasp on power at the polls.

"When Don Samuel was useful to everyone because of his role as mediator with the Zapatistas, he received support from the bishops' conference," Aubry said.