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Central America, the Maryknolls and the Jesuits



     Tim Brown enters the discussion with Tim Walch and me about the church militant, or rather military. He says:
     I disagree categorically that "the charges against the priests are untrue"; many are very true and very well documented. [ I agree, but I said "in general," and certainly many of the charges against priests are untrue. RH]
     A former Marxist-Leninist Sandinistas revolutionary who writes a chapter in my forthcoming "When the AK-47s Fall Silent [Hoover, 2000] trained alongside a Jesuit at a special leadership course in North Korea under the direction of Kim Il; another Jesuit was killed in combat in Guatemala while leading a guerrilla platoon; two Maryknolls - a priest and a nun - who called on me personally in 1968 while I was Consul in Merida, Mexico immediately after their expulsion from Guatemala told me with great pride that they had been involved in guerrilla activities and using their religious facilities as a cover for them; one of the most famous cases in Colombia is that of a priest, Camilo Torres, who was killed in combat while acting as a guerrilla commander; he was followed by another guerrilla commander who self-identified as a priest Manuel "El Cura" Perez; Miguel D'Escoto, the Foreign Minister of Sandinista Nicaragua was a Maryknoll and directly involved in war-making decisions; the list could be extended almost endlessly.
     That said, the Catholic Church is not monolithic, despite efforts to make it so by Rome [meaning that the Pope condemns such military activity. RH.]. Nor does it have as one of its objectives radical revolution. But that is not to say that some of its orders, and many individuals do have that as a mission. Based on decades of personal experience, it is clear to me that the Maryknolls have quite possible been the most active supporters of the recent armed violence of the left in Latin America. Others, such as a few Jesuits, have also been involved but more often acting individually or in small groups.
     I remember having long conversations with a close friend who is now an Archbishop. For may years his primary duty was to weed out the foreign radical pro-revolutionaries from among the Catholic clergy in Honduras. He assured me there had been a deliberate effort among especially Canadian, Spanish and American leftists to promote violent revolution in that country. His was a story precisely parallel to those that have been told to me separately by senior Nicaraguan, Peruvian, and Costa Rican Catholic church leaders.


     My comment: This is correct, but the violent priests are a minority; the rest carry out the papal injunction to promote social justice peacefully. Bishop Samuel Ruiz of Chiapas is retiring, having reached the mandatory age of seventy-five. I believe the charges against him are unfair. Protestants do not promote revolution, in fact they have been a conservative force.
     It is a weird concoction in which American anthropologists and "Native American Studies" professors become involved. The University of Oklahoma Press has published Maya Resurgence in Guatemala by Richard Wilson, who reports that Catholic and Protestant evangelizations in the 70s ended native fertility and healing rites, but these are being revived by Catholic lay activists who seek to renovate the earth cult. Strange "Catholic" activities, but Bishop Ruiz was doing something similar.
     It is a fine line. The distribution of wealth in Brazil is a disgrace. A priest should say so openly, but not recommend violent action. The old situation in which the priest was just a spokesman for the owner of the casa grande was quite un-Christian.

Ronald Hilton - 11/7/99


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