Church orders halt to Indian deacons' ordinations
SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico (AP) -- The Vatican has ordered
a bishop to suspend the ordination of Indian deacons, a measure begun by his
controversial predecessor to create an "Indian church" in southern Mexico.
"Continuing to ordain permanent deacons, with so many already in the diocese,
would be equivalent to continue sustaining an ecclesiastical model alien to the
tradition and the life of the church," said the letter to Bishop Felipe Arizmendi.
It ordered Arizmendi to halt such ordinations for at least five years while
of the deacons is studied. Deacons can assist priests, baptize babies and read Bible
passages during Mass, but cannot consecrate the host, perform marriages or receive
A copy of the letter, dated February 1, was given to the Associated Press
sources with church contacts. The diocese's vicar-general, Gustavo Andrade
Hernandez, confirmed that it was genuine.
The letter again indicated the Vatican's discomfort with the work of Arizmendi's
predecessor, Bishop Samuel Ruiz, who is widely revered in the region's Maya
Indian communities, where he preached an Indian-oriented version of liberation
theology during his 40 years as bishop.
Critics accused Ruiz of twisting church teachings and of laying the groundwork
the Zapatista rebellion that broke out in the state in 1994. Ruiz had encouraged the
ordination of hundreds of Indian deacons to spread the church's presence through
remote Indian villages and to compete with a rapidly expanding Protestant presence.
Several Zapatista leaders had been Ruiz-ordained deacons who later decided
force social change through rebellion rather than religion. He later served as the key
mediator in early talks between the government and the Zapatistas and he was
several times nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
Ruiz had encouraged the ordination of hundreds of Indian deacons to spread
church's presence through remote Indian villages and to compete with a rapidly
expanding Protestant presence.
Some church leaders were uncomfortable with the deacons' teachings and actions.
"If the number of permanent deacons continues to increase, there is a perceived
danger than the initiative sustained by Msgr. Samuel Ruiz Garcia would be
affirmed, impeding normalization of ecclesiastical life in the diocese," the Vatican
The letter, signed by Cardinal Jorge Medina and Archbishop Francesco Pio
Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments,
expressed concern continued ordinations could be seen as Vatican approval of the
The letter to Arizmendi expressed surprise that he had apparently violated
halt ordination of permanent deacons without prior approval from the Vatican
secretary of state.
Shortly after Ruiz retired in March 2000, the Vatican sent a representative
investigate accusations that he had ordained female deacons and allowed the mixing
of pre-hispanic rites with Catholic ceremonies. He denied improprieties.
Copyright 2002 The Associated Press.