WASHINGTON (March 21, 1997) — Two U.S. Bishops have spoken out against the illegal arrest and detention of two Mexican priests, together with two assistants, earlier this month, and have urged a full investigation of what is being called "religious persecution."
Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick of Newark (NJ), Chairman of the Bishops' Committee on International Policy, this week lodged complaints with Mexico's Ambassador to the United States and with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Bishop Anthony Pilla of Cleveland, President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/U.S. Catholic Conference, simultaneously sent a letter of solidarity to the head of the Mexican Bishops' conference.
The arrest of the four men in the town of Palenque in the Mexican state of Chiapas is the latest in a number of incidents which "suggest a pattern of official behavior that could well be described as religious persecution," Archbishop McCarrick said in a strongly worded letter to the Mexican ambassador. "Serious questions remain concerning the conduct of officials of the local government."
Two Jesuit priests and two campesino assistants were arrested on March 8 and accused of involvement in a series of violent actions that allegedly had taken place the previous day in the town of Palenque -- when the priests had in fact been in the town of San Cristóbal. It appears the campesinos were arrested merely because they were with the priests at the time of the arrest. All four were "held incommunicado for over 24 hours" before they were allowed a visit by the local Jesuit superior and the Coadjutor Bishop of San Cristóbal de Las Casas. All four have since been released.
"We call for the restoration of the good name and honor of the four men by means of a full and honest investigation of this most recent instance of religious persecution in Chiapas," Archbishop McCarrick wrote in his letter to the Mexican Ambassador.
Bishop Pilla notified his counterpart in the Mexican Bishops' conference of Archbishop McCarrick's actions and offered the continued assistance of the U.S. Bishops.
"We ... join in solidarity with you in protesting the arbitrary behavior of the officials of the State Government," Bishop Pilla said.
In his letter to Secretary Albright, Archbishop McCarrick reminded her of the request made two years ago for "an honest explanation from the Mexican government for the expulsion of several priests from the Diocese of San Cristóbal de Las Casas including two citizens of the United States." He urged her to raise these matters with Mexican officials at an appropriate time.