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The Jesuits and Human Rights



     WAISers represent the whole gamut of viewpoints, and on no issue do they feel more strongly than religion, especially as it concerns the Indians of Mexico and Central America and the role of the Church and the armed forces. WAISers send me attacks on both sides, and I try to present the issue fairly, mentioning those charges which come with convincing evidence.
     The Jesuits are a special case. In Europe they have been reviled by the left because of their role as the Company at the service of the Pope, as educators of the wealthy and powerful, and as rivals in the intellectual sphere. Yet they have been in trouble for the opposite reason, namely their defense of the oppressed against tyrants.
     The trouble goes back to the historian Father Juan de Mariana (1536-1624), who wrote De rege et regis institutione (Toledo, 1599), which seemed to justify the assassination of tyrants. It was said to have inspired Ravaillac to kill Henry IV of France in 1610. In Paraguay the Jesuits set up a theocracy supposedly benevolent to the Indians. As a result in 1767 they were expelled from Spain and its colonies. Historians say that they succeeded in bringing peace to the warring Indians, who, after the Jesuits left, reverted to their savage ways. The Pope abolished the order, which was revived in the nineteenth century.
     In Mexico, Father Agustín Pro is a Jesuit hero. He studied in the seminary at Los Gatos near here, and returned to Mexico to support the Cristeros who were fighting the brutal anti-clerical revolutionary government. Their massacre by government troops is one of the darkest pages in the history of Mexico. One of the victims was Father Pro. The government made the same accusations against him as are made against the Jesuits today.
     In 1988 Mexican Jesuits founded the Agustín Pro Human Rights Center, headed by Father Edgar Cortez, to defend simple people. Similar groups have been established in various parts of Mexico. They have all received death threats.
     An Academy of Human Rights, headed by Oscar González, has been founded. Such is the concern about human rights that General José Franisco Gallardo called for the creation of an army ombudsman to check army abuses. He was jailed and remains there despite many appeals, Amnesty International has proclaimed him a prisoner of conscience.
     The Agustín Pro Center decided to take on the Army, specifically in the case of Digna Ochoa. She is a former nun who serves as lawyer for the peasants of Guerrero, Oaxaca and Chiapas. She was kidnapped and tortured, but she survived.
     Former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari founded a National Human Rights Commission in 1990, but it is not clear that it has done much. International concern has become such that Mary Robinson, the U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights, has gone to Mexico.Her findings will carry weight.
     The air is thick with charges and countercharges, which must be carefully examined so as not to commit one more injustice. Be assured; although prudent, WAIS is very much on the job. Since the United States has a vital interest in the civic peace of Mexico, the subject is of the utmost importance.

Ronald Hilton - 11/25/99


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