Mexican Government Pulls Official Recognition for Death-Worshipping Church

MEXICO CITY–Mexico’s government canceled the official recognition of a religious group devoted to the worship of the Santa Muerte, or “Saint Death” on Friday, arguing the group had violated its own statutes.

While the cancellation will not prevent the group from continuing its religious practices, it does affect the church’s right to raise money and own property.

The group, known officially as The Traditional Catholic Mex-USA Church, has no ties to the Roman Catholic church.

However, when the group registered with the Interior Department in 2003, it declared its purpose was to “conserve the Holy Tridentine Mass.”

A dissident priest from the group asked the government last year to investigate the church, arguing it had violated that precept.

In Context

“Swathed in a cloak and equipped with a long scythe, Mexico’s Santa Muerte, or St. Death, is a dead ringer for the Grim Reaper. But devotees like those in Mexico City’s notorious El Tepito slum insist she is a motherly angel of mercy, and they make sure to attend to her like a queen. […] Prisoners, petty thieves, corrupt cops and powerful drug traffickers are said to be devotees of the so-called saint, who is not recognized by the Catholic Church. But the cult is benefiting, too, from the faith of simple working-class Mexicans who try to abide by the law but daily face the hunger, injustice, corruption and crime of Mexico’s toughest neighborhoods.”
‘St. Death’ calls to the living in Mexico City

“Devotees say death worship stretches back to pre-Columbian times in Mexico, and the veneration of saints is popular among Catholics worldwide. But Roman said the St. Death phenomenon began about 10 years ago in Mexico’s slums and prisons and has accelerated in the past two years. […] Worried by the trend, Catholic priests in central Mexico City are giving sermons about Rome’s take on the issue: that death is a phenomenon, not a saint or an angel. Last month, 500 Catholics from three parishes held an outdoor Mass near one of the St. Death shrines to show they reject the movement, Roman said.”
Catholic Church upset by Mexico’s St. Death

The group did not mention in its registry application that its main activity is to pray for the intercession of Saint Death, who devotees usually depict as a skeleton wearing women’s robes and who they view as the right-hand servant of God.

Those rites appear to have little to do with the Tridentine Mass, the standard Latin Mass codified by Pope Pius V at the request of the Council of Trent in 1570.

“The complaint was filed by one of their own ministers, who requested their registration be canceled because they had severely altered the aims” of the group, the Interior Department said in a press statement.

“For this reason, the group forfeits its legal standing, and with it such rights as owning property … and publicizing or transmitting its religious events in the mass media,” the statement continued.

David Romo Guillen, the self-styled Bishop of the church’s main shrine in a tough downtown Mexico City neighborhood, said the death-worshippers would not be deterred.

“We are going to carry on despite this,” Romo Guillen said. “We are going to hold various mobilizations to stop this injustice.”

In March, hundreds of death worshippers carrying statues of the grim reaper and white flowers marched through downtown Mexico City Friday to demand respect for their religion.

They complained that, because the group draws most of its followers from rough neighborhoods and prisons, society at large tends to brand them as criminals or drug addicts.

Many of the faithful recount miracles performed for them by Saint Death _ depicted as a smiling female skeleton known as our “Our Little White Girl.”

While the official Catholic church was not involved the complaint, some priests have accused the cult of seeking to profit from people’s faith.

The Saint Death rites, which are performed in Spanish, use some phrases of Catholic liturgy, but mix them with other references not found in the official cannon.

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Associated Press, USA
Apr. 30, 2005

Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday April 30, 2005.
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