In another surprising turn in the recent municipal attacks on Santa Muerte shrines in Matamoros, Ruy Rendon Leal, bishop of the Diocese of Matamoros, is calling for tolerance and open dialogue between the Catholic church and followers of Santa Muerte. He is saying that in these trying times ‘Good Samaritans’ and mutual help are more important than continued tensions between groups.
As reported in an article on Esfera Informativa (Click Here for the article):
Without criticizing the followers and practitioners of the cult of holy death, the bishop of the Diocese of Matamoros Ruy Rendón Leal notes that the church does not recognize the title of ‘Santa Muerte’ in the understanding that the institution he represents does not canonize events, but people who have been a living example of the faith.
From the point of view of the head of the Catholic church in Matamoros, the cult of Santa Muerte is not recognized as an official religion of the Catholic Church, but has emerged in communities of people as a way to have protection before death and difficult living situations.
He noted that because of that death as such is an event and not a person. There is no possibility for the cult as it exists to occur within the Catholic church, and it must be passed by the canonization process to be recognized.
“The church does not canonize events, because if we talk about holy death we speak of an event not a person, death does not exist as a being, so the church can not canonize an event like a saint, the event simply does not exist,” he said.
He said that as a church are not against the practices of people who in their zeal to protect interpret the event and try to personify it and in doing so worship a sculpture..
Noting that the Catholic church does not unleash a persecution against the followers and those who worship Santa Muerte, and that actions against practices that disrupt the planning will always be respected and supported.
“When people get a statue of the holy death and places to worship, simply because the church does not endorse this cult, this does not mean as a church we can remove, destroy, or burn their objects of faith. I as a bishop could not issue such a decree that undermine the religious feelings of people who maybe are not well formed in their faith. I also believe it is the right of the municipal authorities, if an image of Saint Death, a cross or a picture of a saint of our church was in a site that obstruct the road or interrupt the flow of people, that they should be more than willing to accept moving or changing the area.”he said.
He added that if the images do not obstruct or impede the flow of people or vehicles is considered not necessarily have to remove or push aside, “are the decision of those managing a municipality.”
In this regard the diocese spokesman, Allan Camargo added that there is full respect for the manifestations of faith, and the actions of governments.
Dr. R. Andrew Chesnut, Chair of Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, observes:
The bishop’s statements are much more measured and moderate than recent denunciations of Santa Muerte on the part of the Catholic church in Mexico. He reiterates the now standard rejection of the skeleton saint on the basis of death not being a person and thus incapable of being a saint. Unlike many of his fellow Mexican bishops, however, the head of the diocese of Matamoros rejects any persecution of the cult and its followers, and even states that if altars aren’t obstructing public thoroughfares there is not necessarily any reason to remove them, though he defers to municipal authorities in making that decision. In short, with the larger context of threats of excommunication from the Church of Santa Muertistas and the demolition of several shrines ordered by the mayor of the border city, the bishop’s statements are a step in the right direction of greater respect for religious diversity on the part of both Church and state in Mexico.
While many in the Catholic church are calling for more aggressive approaches towards the growing devotional tradition surrounding Santa Muerte, the situation in Matamoros has been intensified by Evangelical Mayor Leticia Salazar Vazquez who recently approved the use of Mexican military forces in the destruction and removal of a chapel and series of shrines. With the tolerance offered by the bishop of the Diocese of Matamoros we continue to see the complexities of faith, politics and everyday life in the Americas.
For more information on the preceding events that lead to the bishop of Matamoros statements see: