Will Pope Apologize to Mexico for Church Complicity during Spanish Conquest?
The President of Mexico has written a letter to Pope Francis asking for an apology over the Catholic Church’s role in the brutal repression of indigenous people during the Spanish conquest of the Central American nation. Almost 500 years ago, the Spanish conquered the Aztec Empire, a historic event followed by the brutal exploitation and repression of the native peoples of what is now Mexico.
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The letter is the latest in several initiatives by the Mexican President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, to secure apologies from those deemed to be responsible for the inhumane treatment of the indigenous people. In 2019, he sent a letter to Spain asking for an apology for colonial-era abuses from the government and king. Reuters reports that his most recent letter “was delivered to the pope by López Obrador’s wife, Beatriz Gutiérrez Müller” after meeting the President of Italy. It was later published on social media. 2021 is the 500 th anniversary of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire.
President López Obrador of Mexico has been accused by many for being a populist. The photo shows him at a rally in Mexico City. He has now written an open letter asking the Pope to apologize for the complicity of the Catholic church during the Spanish conquest. (ProtoplasmaKid / CC BY-SA 3.0)
Atrocities Committed by Spanish Conquistadors in Mexico
In the letter President Obrador asked the Pope to apologize for the Catholic Church’s role in the atrocities committed by the Spanish Conquistadors during the colonial era. In the same letter, he reiterated his calls for the Spanish monarchy and government to apologize for the historic brutality and violence committed during the Spanish conquest. Obrador wrote that the native people “deserve not just that generous attitude on our part but also a sincere commitment that never again will disrespectful acts be committed against their beliefs and cultures. In 2015, the Pope apologized to the indigenous people of Bolivia for the Catholic Church’s role in their suppression.
Se entrevistó Beatriz con el papa Francisco, a quien respeto y admiro como dirigente religioso y jefe de Estado. Me comentó que la trató con afecto y expresó su voluntad de mantener buenas relaciones por el bien del pueblo. Aquí la carta que le escribí: https://t.co/mEGZAdAaAc pic.twitter.com/x0fG2NpHJj
— Andrés Manuel (@lopezobrador_) October 10, 2020
Also, in the letter, the Mexican President asked the Pope to reconcile with Miguel Hidalgo (1753-1811). He was a priest and one of the leaders of the Mexican Independence movement in the early 19 th century and regarded as one of the Fathers of the Nation. ABC News explains that Hidalgo was “once believed to have been excommunicated by the church for his involvement in the uprising.” This has since been proven to be untrue, but many in Mexico believe that the Catholic Church has been unfair to Hidalgo. According to The Washington Post, the letter states that the Mexican President thinks “it would be an act of humility and at the same time greatness” for the church to reconcile posthumously with Hidalgo.
Miguel Hidalgo was a Spanish Roman Catholic priest, who became a hero of the Mexican War of Independence for fighting against the greed and cruelty of the Spanish conquistadors. After being captured he was defrocked, excommunicated and executed, his head put on display in Guanajuato until the end of the war. On the left: Portrait of Miguel Hidalgo by Antonio Fabrés. (Public domain) On the right: Famous mural painting of Hidalgo by the Mexican muralist José Clemente Orozco, at the Government Palace in Guadalajara. (Posztós János / Adobe Stock)
Church Accused of Complicity in Repression of Mexican Indigenous Peoples
The Conquest of Mexico led to a massive loss of life among the indigenous people by war, famine and especially disease. Many of the native population were reduced to a status of near-slavery. During the Spanish colonization of the Americas, the Church set up missions which played an important role in the Europeans systematic exploitation of the native people. The Catholic Church gave the Conquistadors the moral authority to carry out their atrocities. It also played a critical role in the religious persecution of the native peoples, which destroyed their religion and much of their culture.
According to The Guardian, in the letter the President specifically asks for the return to Mexico of a number of indigenous manuscripts or codices and Aztec maps that are presently held in the Vatican Library. One of them is the “Codex Borgia, an especially colorful screen-fold book spread across dozens of pages that depicts gods and rituals from ancient central Mexico,” reports the Hindustan Times.
The Codex Borgia is regarded as one of the masterpieces of pre-Aztec art. The Hindustan Times also states that the “Catholic authorities in colonial-era Mexico dismissed such codices as the work of the devil and ordered hundreds or even thousands of them burned.” The President proposed that these priceless works are loaned to Mexico for one year in 2021, a year that marks 500 years since the Spanish conquest of Mexico began.
Pope Francis dedicated his February 2016 tour of Mexico to speaking with marginalized people. Will he now apologize to the Mexican people for the role the Catholic Church played in the Spanish conquest? (Aleteja Image Department / CC BY 2.0)
Commemorating Genocide During the Conquest of Mexico
DW states that “the Mexican president's call to the pope is part of the preparations to commemorate in 2021 the 500th anniversary of the 1519-1521 conquest.” During the conquest and later, the pre-Hispanic population collapsed and many regarded the early period of Spanish colonization as a genocide. Obrador, who is seen as a nationalist, is planning a series of commemorations to mark the Spanish conquest in 1521. His plans have proven controversial. The Vatican has yet to formally reply to the requests of the President in the letter.
Top image: Painting by Jan Karel Donatus Van Beecq showing the imprisonment of Montezuma by Cortés during the Spanish Conquest of Mexico. Source: Public domain.
By Ed Whelan