Luis Cabrera.

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Secretary of Finance ef the Mexican Goverment


225 W. 39th St.. NEW YORK


Luis Cabrera

Secretary of Finance of the Mexican Government


The question of the Cliui-cli in Mi^xico has not been well un-
derstood in the United States, l)eeause the conditions of the
Mexican Catholic Church differ vastly from those of the Cath-
olic Church in the United States.

In Mexico, ninety-nine per cent of the population profess the
Roman Catliolic faith, and, therefore, the influence of the Cath-
olic clergy in religious matters has no counterbalance of any sort.

In the United States there are other Churches which coun-
ter})alance the influence of the Catholic Church. On the other
hand, the Catholic Church in the I'nited States does not hold
unlimited sway over society, nor can it attain uncontrollable
political power; the very education of the American people has
prevented Konic from exercisiUg so far the influence which it
exercises in other count lies.

rTTc^ore the war of the Reform (1856 to 1859), the Catholic
Church was the strongest temporal powei' existing in Mexico,
and the laws of the Reform enacted during that period all tended
to deprive the Cliurch of its powei- and bring about the al^solute
independence of Church and State.

The laAvs of the Reform are a collection of rules passed previ-
ous to 1860, with the aim of depriving the Catholic Church of its
temporal power; and these rules have remained effective, be-
cause the conditions which then demanded their enactment still
prevail and still make it necessary that the laws should remain
in force.

The aim of the Revolution of Ayutla, from 1856 to 1859, was
to deprive the Church of economic power and of its social in-
fluence, and it had to place the<,Church in a condition which,
apparently, is disadvantageous and unjust, but which in reality
was and continues to be the only possible manner of reducing the
Catholic clergy to impotence.]

The principal laws enacted previous to 1860, for governing
the Church and stripping it of the temporal power which it
enjoyed, are the following:

(a) Separation of the Church and State.

(b) Incapacity of the Church to possess landed property.

/ 324131

((') A))(>:iiioii of comonty.

These laws, which are called laws of the Reform, were estah-
lished ill Mexico after a re^ ohitioii which may be considered the
most bloody that Mexico has cvei- witnessed — a revolution which
affect<'d the coimti-y moi'*^ d(M'j)ly than even the present revolu-
tion is doini;-. The clergy defended themselves desperately
against the laws which stripped them of power, and on finding
themselves defeated, they resorted in 18G() to the intervention
of foreign Powers (Spain, France and England), which attempt-
ed to intervene with the pretext of the fultilment of the tlnancial
.obligations of the Juarez Government.

The treason of the Clerical party had as a result French in-
tervention only, but the laws of the Reform enacted against the
olergy were of such importance and so necessary, that the Em-
])ero]* Maximilian hims(^lf did not dare to undo what had been
lione in the time of .luai'ez.

The French troops l)eing witlidi'awii and llie Constitutionalist
Oovernment of Mexico reestablished, the laws of the Reform
were not only maintained, but in 1874 they were incorporated
in the political Constitution.

At the present time, there are precepts contained in the Mexi-
can Constituion which correspond to those laws of the Reform,
and, according to that Constitution, all the laws and all the au-
thorities of the country must enforce the fulfilment of those laws.
It l)ecomes necessary at this moment to distinguish between
the real aims of the Constitutionalist Government regarding the
religious question, and that jjai't of the actual happenings which
is mei'ely a deplorable consequence of the attitude assumed by
the Catholic clergy since 1910 against the revolutionary move-

The aim of the Constitutionalist Government, with regard to
the Mexican Catholic Church, is to enforce the strict observance
of the lav/s known as laws of the Reform, which up to the present
time have been disregarded. The Constitutionalist Government
demands the fulfilment of these laws, because they form an in-
tegral part of the Mexican Constitution. These laws must be
maintained because the causes which demanded their enactment
are still prevalent in the country.

A brief Miialysis of the princi])al laws of the Reform will
fui'ther clear u]) the matter.


According to the Mexicaii Constitution, there nmst be abso-
lute separation between the Church and State. This signifies
that tlie Church is to lack all temporal power and that, as an

— G —

organized institution, it is not to participate in the political af-
fairs of tlie conntry.

It lias never ))een intended to deny Mexican Catholics either
the exercise of their religion, or their right to take part in the
political affairs of Mexico. We Constitutionalists are Catho-
lics; the Villistas are Catholics; the Zapatistas are Catholics.
Ninety-nine per cent, of the Mexican population is Catholic, and,
therefore, the Constitutionalist party could not in the present
struggle attempt to deprive the Catholics, who form the totality
of the Mexican jx'ople, of their right to profess their religion,
or of their right to take part in i:>olitical questions.

The Catholic clergy and the Church in general abstained for
a long time from interference in the political ;oro))lems of Mex-
ico. During the time of General Diaz, the Catholic clergy made
no attempt to organize themselves for political campaigns, but
appeared to maintain themselves in strict obedience to the law,
in the belief, perhaps, that they could' avail themselves of other
indirect proceedings foi* exercising their influence in the political
affairs of the country.

On the retirement of General Diaz from the Government, and
on Francisco de la Barra's accession to the Presidency, the
Catholic clergy of Mexico believed the moment had arrived to
organize themselves for the political struggle, and to that effect
a political group was formed, under the patronage of the Catho-
lic clergy, made up chiefly of l)ig land-owners. This group took
the name of "Catholic Party", with deliberate intention of
taking advantage of the religious sentiments of the population
to induce it to vote in conformity with their directions. The
Catholic clergy started to make propaganda in favor of the
Catholic party, first in a discreet manner , bringing moral
preassure to beai' upon the ignorant masses, who were unal)le to
discern clearly where their duties as Catholics ceased, and where
began their rights as citizens

The Catholic party is, in a nutslu^ll, the political organization
of the Catholic Church of Mexico. This single fact constitutes
a peril for democratic institutions, and was naturally bound to
be looked upon with great disfavor In- the anti-reelectionist
party, first, and later by the Constitutionalist party.

At the time that de la Barra was President, the Catholic party
attempted to rob the Bevolution of the fruits of its ti'iumph,
designating <le la Barra as its candidate foi- the Presidency
of the Republic. The consideral)le prestige which Madero en-
joyed at that time frustrated this attempt of the Catholic party,
which had to limit its pretensions to the Vice-Presidency of the

RepuMic, i-('s'u;niii,i;- itself to liave as President, Madero, a man
sprung i'loiii the Iicvolutioii; and as N^ice-President, de la Barra,
a man ])('rr('(*tly well known as being ol* the ancient regime and
and tlie ])rin('ipal leader of tlie Catliolic ]]arty.

In the elections of Octohei", 1911, the formula of the \)V0-
gressi\(' Constitutionalist paity trinniplied over the Madero-de
la BaiM-a foiimda, which was that of tln^ ])arty of the principal
enemies; of tlie Catholic Govei'nnient ; hut from that moment
that of the enemies of the Govei-nment of Francisco I. Maihu-o.

In the elections for deputies and senators of 1912, the Catho-
lic party succeeded in obtaining a considerable number of depu-
ties, amounting to almost thirty per cent, of the Lower Tfouse;
Nvhilst the Senate, which was almost completely made up of
Porfirista elements, was only renewed ])y half and scarcely ob-
tained_ejght or ten senators as followers of the new regime.

The Catholic clergy of Mexico, directly and through the in-
te]-mission of the Catholic l^arty, were one of the principal fact-
ors in the downfall of Madero, and although perhaps Hu(M-ta
was not the candidate designated to replace him, the fact is that
the Clerical chief, de la Barra, foi'uied part of the Cabinet which
^^ - Jiiiiolved upon the murder of ]\[adero and Pino Suarez.

Subse()uently, the party ol)tained important posts for its prin-
cipal leaders in the Government of Huerta, and finall\' supported
the candidacy of Federico Gamboa.

It is unnecessary to enter into details regarding the decided
assistance lent socially by the clergy, and the political support
given by the Catholic party, to Huerta, with both their men
and money. But the princi])al assistance given by the Catholic
chM-gy to the GoveFuiiient of Huerta was contained in the efforts
made by their principal dignitaries and other members of the
high clergy to create an opinion, if not favorable to Huerta, at
least very unfavorable to Constitutionalists.

'I'his end was accomplished, not through the individual means
that any citizen is at liberty to place at the disposal of a political
pai'ty, l)ut by taking advantage of the religious influence exer-
<'ised by the Catholic clergy over the faithful, from the pulpit
and in the confessional.

During the war against Huerta, one of the things which most
greatly surprised the Constitutionalists was the extremely hos-
tile and unjust opinion encountered by them in each of the towns
which they came to occupy. It was in the nature of a paradox.

The strongest armed resistance that the Constitutionalist par-

, ty encountered in the cities, in the form of social defence, was

not an opposition caused by the sympathy which the residents

of the cities might have experienced in favor of Huerta, but was

, " -8-

originated in the antipathy which had been created against the
Constitutionalist forces, whom the Catholic clergy on all occa-
sions represented as bandits who were intent on seizing the
towns solely for pni'poses of plunder, theft, violation of women,
and murder. This opinion had its source in sermons, in the
confessionals, and in an extensive correspondence, proofs of
which have been secured,, - '-

The work done l)y tiTe clergy in creating an opinion antago-
nistic to the Constitutionalist troops explains, if it cannot justi-
fy, many of the acts of aggression, and even attemiDts of Consti-
tutionalist soldiers against members of the Catholic clergy.

Since the triumph of the Revolution, there has been on the
jmvt of the Constitutionalist Government no other aim with
regard to the clei'gy than that of restricting them within the
limits of their faculties and of their spiritual mission, that of
making effective the separation of the Church and the State,
and of keeping the clergy from taking any participation, as a
religious institution, in our political questions. But a political
struggle having developed, it is natural that the military groups
should experience strong displeasure, especially on laboring un-
der the effects of the clerical propaganda against the Revolu-
tion, and that, instead of limiting themselves to restrain th(^
clergy within due bounds, they should overstep this limitation
and even, on some occasions, attempt to interfere in matters of
a purely religious character. The restriction of religious serv-
ices in some places and the destruction of the confessionals are
instances of this. The destruction of confessionals has been the .
most ostensible manifestation of the ill will with which the re-^i
volutionary troops have regarded the use that the Catholic
clergy have made of the sacrament of confession as a weapon
of political strife. \

If the Catholic clergy had maintained themselves within their \
religious attributes, without interfering in the- struggle, and, i
what is more, if they had not put in action the advantages which
they derive from their capacity of intellectual directors of the
masses, the counter-effects on the part of the Revolutionary
troops would not have occurred.

It is unnecessary to repeat that the Constitutionalist Govern-
ment itself has never pretended to interfere in religious mat-
ters, or to restrain in any manner the religious liberty of the
Mexican people. The Constitutionalist Government does not
propose to establish laws which affect religion, nor does it in
any way propose to restrict religious practices.

The course of action followed by the Constitutionalist Gov-
ernment justifies this statement, since, owing to the influence

— 9 —

of tlie First C'liiet' of the Revolution, Veiiustiaiio Carraiiza, the
inilitai-y acts wliich were considered restrictive of religious lib-
ei-ty have been diminishing in nunihei' and in gravity.


The Mexican Constitution and the hnvs of the lieforni (h^cr-
mine that neither the Catholic Church noi' any other religious
corpoi'ation, regardless of ('haract(M-, denomination, duration or
object, can own landed pi'operty.

The reason for this ordinance is that the Catholic clergy con-
stituted, previous to 1856, the strongest economic power exist-
ing in the country.

In 1856, an attempt was made to disentail the properties of
the clergy, that is, to destroy the mortmain, compelling the
clergy to alienate theii- landed property. This was the tendency
of the laws of disentailment.

The clergy vigorously resisted this law, l)elieving that their
economic power was thus considerably reduced, and with this
motive started the struggle called the War of the Reform or
Three Years ' War.

The laws of 1856 did not expropriate the clergy, but in view
of the latters' completely rebellious attitude, in 1859 Benito Jua-
rez issued in Vera Cruz a law called "Nationalization of the
Lands of the Clergy," by which was expropriated all th landed
property of the Catholic clergy who had resisted and struggled
against the disentailment of these lands.

In virtue of this law, the temples became national property,
the titles of ownership remaining in the hands of the State, but
the usufruct of the same being reserved to the Catholic Church.
As to the clergy's landed property and real estate investments,
tli£se were turned over to the nation and awarded to individuals.
'.The vital point of the laws of the Reform regarding the Catho-
lic clergy lies in. the declaration of civil incapacity of religious
corporations to own lands. This measure, though it may ap-
]iear extreme, was absolutely necessary in 1859, in order to de-
prive the clergy of their temporal power'J The measure still
continues to be absolutely indispensable, because if religious cor-
porations w^ere at this moment permitted to acquire landed prop-
erty, a considerable mortmain would inmediate be created, from
which a great amount of power would again be derived by the
Catholic Church, Avho would thus recover their temporal power,
which all countries have admitted should not be tolerated.
Moreover, it can be said that the reason for Avhicli the Catholic
Church of Mexico has taken, as a Church, participation in the
political sfruggle, and attemps to recover its influence and its

— 10 —

temporal i)owt'r, is that I'or sovcial years past it lias been sue- /
cessfully evadiiii;- the law in so fai- as regards the possession/
of lands. /

Aceoi-ding to the Mexican law, the Catholic Church is inca-
pacitated from acquiring lands, by which is understood not only
landed property, but also capital invested in real estate.

The Mexican law also prohibits the feoffments which might
cause the property to appear in the hands of an individual, when
it really belongs to the Church, or is used exclusively for the
benefit of the Chnrch.

. Feoffments from bishop to l)isliop are not permitted in Mex-
ico, and the states owned by members of the clergy are con-
sidered as their personal property, to be freely transmitted to
the voluntary or legal inheritors of the owners.

The estates of a bishop in Mexico, when not acquired through
agreement or bequest, are to be transmitted to his legal inheri-

For a long time past, Mexican l)ishops, rectors and even a
number of laymen have been owning lands which apparently
are their personal property, but the products of which in reality
are destined to be turned over to the Church. These lands effec-
tually constitute a mortmain, because their o^\^iers, before dying,
have to bequeath them to the persons previously designated by
the. Church, whether to the succeeding bishoi^ or to any other
person especially designated to that effect.

That is how the Church has, against the law, been acquiring-
a large amount of landed property having the appearance of
private property.

But, in practice, the lands personally owned could not always
be taken over without difficulties by the new trustee designated
by the Church, and experience showed that from time to time
properties were lost to the Church which were claimed by the
legal inheritors of the owner apparent.

These losses emphasized the advisability of finding other
means to tie up the property to the Church, without ostensibly
violating the laws of the Eeform. In some places stock com-
panies have been organized, without any determined mercantile
end, but solely for the purpose of managing the estates which
might be entrusted to these companies. The caj^ital of the com-
panies was made up of contributions by the members of the
clergy or by individuals; the shares of the company, and there-
fore, its management, being retained by the bishops. Notable
instances of this can be had in the bishoprics of Durango, Pue-
bla, and several other parts of the country.

— 11 —

Briefly, it can be said that tlip C'atliolic Church, transgressing
the law which ])r()hihits it from accjiiiring landed property, has
found uu'ans of necessary, just and legal appearance for pos-
sessing lauds, wdiicli have served it to recover little by little its
political inlluence.

The coutiscation of the lands illegally possessed by the Catho-
lic Church of Mexico is a necessary, just and legal confiscation,
<uid in that sense, all the confiscations of lands pertaining to
the Church are legitimate, for wdiich reason the Constitutional-
ist Government is in the right in continuing the same policy,
not only confiscating the properties w^hich are openly in the
ownersliij^ of the clergy, but also investigating those properties
which apparently belong to individuals, but which, through the
history of their former owners and through the form of their
administration, can be clearly distinguished as properties of the

As regards the temples, since the passing of the laws of the
Eeform, the ownership has been retained to the State, their use
])eing reserved to the Catholic Church. In fact, the Catholic
Church has for many years used the temples without restriction
of any kind and without paying rents, pensions or contributions
of any sort.

The limiting of the number of temples which are needed in
each place for religious services w^ould have to be left to the
judgment of the Church, but as the Catholic clergy of Mexico
exercise absolute control in religious matters, wdthout interven-
tion of any kind by the community, that is, by the parishioners,
in the administration of the estates or in the management of the
temporal interests of the parishes, or still less in the organiza-
tion of the religious services, there is nothing to serve as a basis
for determining the number of temples required by a certain
parish or a certain city.

It is, therefore, wath State alone that the Church can
•come to an understanding regarding the number of temples to
be reserved for the service, and the Government, as adminis-
trator of the nation's property, has the unquestionable right to
•dispose of the temples, wdien required for uses wdiich, in its esti-
mation, are of higher importance than the religious service, and
above all, Avhen, because of the abundance of temples in a single
icity, the number of those available for religious services is con-
sidered excessive.

Up to the present time, the Government has not made use
of this right.

Immediately after the passing of the laws of the Reform, and
principallv since 1867, the Juarez Government took over some

— 12 —

of the many temples in existence, for the purpose of turning
them to public uses, so that in the principal cities of the country
it may be seen that the libraries, universities, hospitals, and
many other charitable institutions occupy buiklings which origin-
ally were temples. Since 1876, the Catholic Church has enjoyed
uiimolested the possession of a great number of temples, and the
Government up to the present had not tried to make use of its
right to consolidate the property of some of them, nor had there
been any ocasion to discuss the number of temples necessary
for religious services.

The truth of the matter is that in some cities of Mexico
the number of temples open to public service is considerably ex-
cessive, in proportion to the religious needs. A population of
10,000 inhabitants has enough with one or two temples open
for worship; however, there are towns, such as the City of Clio-
lula, in which the number of churches is so great in proportion
to the population that a source of real curiosity is found by tour-
ists in the vast number of temples, all of which are open for
service, all affording occupation to priests, and, therefore, sig-
nifying a strong contribution on the part of the faithful.

Puebla is a city of 100,000 inhabitants, and it is curious to
note that, until the time of its occui^ation by the Constitutionalist
Army, it had nearly 200 temples open to the public.

Merida is a city of 60,000 inhabitants, and it has enough with
twelve temj)les, that is, one for each. 5,000 souls.

The city of Vera Cruz hin^ a normal poj^ulation of 50,000 in-
liabitants, and three churches have always sufficed for religious

Up to the present time, the number of temples destined for
public service in each place has been unlimited. The Govern-
ment notwithstanding its unquestionable right to dispose of
the buildings and to determine wliich are those that should be
reserved for religious services and which can be destined for
other purposes, had not limited the number of temples which
the Catholic Church controlled.

Lately, however, the attitude assumed by the clergy against
the Constitutionalist Revolution brought about the closing of
certain temples to religious services by a number of military
chiefs and State Governors, on their capturing towns.

This could be regarded as an act of hostility, or as a sort of
reprisal against the Catholic clergy, but in reality, and even
supposing that such were the case, the closing of some of the
temples, which never reached the extent of the total closing up
of all the churches in a town, does not constitute an illegal act
and is not censurable except in so far as regards the occasio»

— 13 —

on which it occun-cd, wiiich, on the other liaiid, was elicited by
the attitiuh' of the clergy theiiisclvcs.

In su])sta,nce: as regards goods and chattels, the Catholic
Church has Full ca^jacity to acciuire and handle property. But
in so far as landed property is concerned, the Mexican Consti-
tution forhids the Catholic Church to own real estate or capital
invested in the same, and the only right granted the Church by
the laAVS is to maintain the temples immediately or directly des-
tined to religious service.

Concerning the temjoles open for worship, which are the prop-
erty of the State, their number is considerably greater than
is required to till the demand, and the Government is not occa-
sioning a damage, but simply exercising a right, when it con-
solidates the property of those temples which it is not essential
should remain in the powder of the Church.


The law^s of the Reform established the abolition of all con-

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Online LibraryLuis CabreraThe religious question in Mexico → online text (page 1 of 3)