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March 18, 1997
The Honorable Madeleine Albright
Secretary of State
Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Madame Secretary,
I write to express the concern of the United States Catholic Conference over a number of actions taken by the authorities of the Government of Mexico, especially in the State of Chiapas, in violation of the basic legal and human rights of members of the Catholic clergy and other pastoral workers in that area.
The most recent instance was the arrest and detention on March 8 of two Jesuit priests and two campesinos in the municipality of Palenque, Chiapas and the accusation that they were somehow involved in a series of violent actions that allegedly took place the previous day. They were held incommunicado for over 24 hours before the Jesuit superior and the Coadjutor Bishop of the diocese were permitted to visit them. The men have since been released.
In a statement following his meeting with the men, Bishop Raúl Vera, OP described the arrests as an act of religious persecution, aimed at the work the priests do in behalf of the indigenous people of Chiapas. The Bishops' Conference of Mexico condemned this and "every form of violence in Chiapas and throughout the country, conscious that it leads nowhere but rather weakens further our social compact and the possibility of our growing closer."
The U.S. Catholic Conference has, for almost two years now, sought 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. Lacking such an explanation, we and many others have urged that at least Fr. Loren Riebe be allowed to return to his parish of Yajalón, but the governmental authorities continue to stonewall. And serious incidents harmful to the Diocese of San Cristóbal, to the Society of Jesus, and to the Catholic Church in general continue to be recorded.
I bring these matters to your attention, Madame Secretary, in the hope that in the on-going discussions with the Government of Mexico, the Department of State may find occasion to raise such matters with the Mexican authorities.
With all best wishes and assurances of prayer for your work, I remain
Most Reverend Theodore E. McCarrick
Archbishop of Newark
Chairman, USCC Committee on International Policy
cc: Assistant Secretary John Shattuck
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