Maximilian in Mexico - George Upton

Church Affairs in Mexico

The most difficult problem now awaiting solution was the religious situation in Mexico. Forty years of internal strife and anarchy had inevitably lowered the standards of the people and weakened their sense of right and wrong, as was proved by Juarez's treatment of Church property. The claim of the enemies of the Catholic Church, however, that the priesthood was responsible for this moral degradation, is entirely without foundation. All reports agree that the priests were then, as now, the friends and guardians of the Indians. Many of the staunchest supporters of Mexican independence—among them Hidalgo, Morelos, and Guerrero—belonged to the clerical party, and even at the present day a large part of the minor clergy are Indians.

Accounts vary as to the value of the Church's property in Mexico at that time, but it is a matter of little importance, since it had been seized and disposed of by Juarez and his followers long before Maximilian's arrival. Indeed, this had been one of the chief causes for the latter's hesitation in accepting the throne.

The only possible method of dealing with this knotty question seemed to be that of direct negotiation with the papal chair, and a special envoy was sent to Mexico by Pope Pius Ninth for this purpose. The nuncio, Monsignore Meglia, was received by Maximilian with every mark of honor and escorted in state to the capital where a round of festivities ensued, after which the Emperor and his guest devoted themselves to the matter in hand. Nine points were submitted by Maximilian and his ministers for debate, the chief of which may be briefly stated as follows: Free observance of all religions in Mexico, in so far as they did not violate the laws of the country; all expenses of Catholic worship to be borne by the State; no taxes nor gratuities of any kind to be paid to the clergy by the people; cession by the Church of all possessions declared to be national property; enjoyment by the Emperor of all rights possessed by his predecessors, the Kings of Spain, in Mexico; a mutual agreement to exist between the Pope and the Emperor to resist aggression on the part of any or all religious orders in Mexico; existing communities to remain on condition that no more novices be received until conditions were settled.

The delicate nature of these matters may readily be perceived as well as the difficulty of their settlement. Negotiations, in fact, were soon broken off and an uncomfortable open rupture occurred between the Emperor's ministers and Monsignore Meglia, who left the capital with his suite on the twenty-seventh of May, and returned to Rome without having accomplished his mission.