by Michael Tangeman in Mexico City
PAPAL approval for the beatification of a Mexican Jesuit who was executed in 1927 has stirred an old political controversy rooted in Mexico's "Cristero" rebellion. Columnists in Mexican news publications said the papal action was indiscreet at a time when church-state relations are strained. Members of the hierarchy have alleged, vote fraud in the state of Chihuahua by the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party.
The subject of the controversy, Miguel Augustin Pro, was executed in connection with a car-bombing attempt on the life of former president Alvaro Obregon during the 1926-29 rebellion by Mexican Catholics against government repression. Pro, his brother Humberto and two other men were killed by firing squad on November 23, 1927.
The Pros were members of a military Catholic opposition group, the National League for the Defence of Religious Liberty. Church officials say, however, there is no proof the Jesuit was involved in the assassination attempt.
On November 10, the Vatican announced that Fr Pro was approved for beatification as a martyr. The brief announcement did not mention the rebellion or the attempt on Obregon's life. It said Fr Pro was "killed in hatred of the faith".
"The case of Fr Pro synthesises one of the most important political phenomena in Mexico — the church-state conflict," a columnist for the newsmagazine Proceso wrote. "It cannot be forgotten that the league in which Pro was a militant, was a political organisation trying to take power in Mexico, the columnist wrote, an action which "Pope John Paul II...appears to be encouraging."
The attempt was planned and carried out by a paramilitary unit of the religious liberty league. The organisation was founded in 1925 by Catholics in Mexico City to peacefully defend religious freedom. But the following year league members launched an armed rebellion after increasing tensions resulted in government confiscation of church property and the deportation of some bishops on charges of encouraging revolt.