In Guatemala, being “sympathetic to those who have grievances” is a crime. You can be executed for it. And everybody has grievances, especially if you are Indian, that 65 percent of the population that is outside of the general Spanish-speaking culture. Then you are considered dispensable — there are no questions asked about what to do with Indians. Which is why you have such a high rate of massacres going on now, condoned, I might add, by the United States government.
When I first came to Guatemala, the government of Guatemala had just assassinated the national president of the young Christian workers, so we incorporated the succeeding president into our team. They were very much identified with the labor union movement, as were we. Later the government began to systematically assassinate the union leadership in Guatemala that would not bow to pressures. Since then all the laws and constitution have been suspended and there are no group meetings and there are no labor unions, there is no nothing. And most of the labor union leaders are either dead or in exile.
The cardinal of Guatemala is another problem, and part of it may be due to his physical illness. His position ideologically has been anything but inspired by the gospel, and in many ways is contradictory to it. His identification is with the wealthy and the military — they control him. The other bishops have been trying to follow the guidelines of Medellin and the more recent conference they had in 1979 in Puebla for church renewal, but the cardinal would mess things up wherever he could. Just last year somebody asked him, “How about those twelve priest-martyrs that you’ve got down there?” And he says, “Priest-martyrs? We have no priest-martyrs. What we have are unfaithful priests.”
When a Belgian priest working on the south coast was assassinated, the news got to the cardinal at the bishop’s office, and his secretary described his reaction. He threw up his hands and he cried out, “I told them they could get rid of him. I didn’t tell them they could kill him!” When they assassinated a priest in his own archdiocese for working with the poor and publicly criticizing the military for their methods of recruitment, at the funeral the cardinal got up and told the assembled priests, “I hope none of you other priests are going to be so foolish as to meddle in politics as this man did, because you know that I will not support you.”
At the time Rios Montt was the president of Guatemala, and he was another problem for Catholics. He used to be Catholic years ago until he joined this church based in Eureka, California. He claimed to be sent by God and that all the massacres and the torture taking place under his regime were inspired by God. The cardinal was interviewed in Guatemala City, and the man interviewing him asked, “How are you getting along with Rios Montt?” “Oh fine,” he said, “Rios Montt is a wonderful Catholic.”
So the interviewer said, “But I understand that he left the Catholic church and he joined this other.” “Oh, no, Rios Montt is a wonderful Catholic, 100 percent Catholic.” Well, he was persecuting the Catholic church at that very moment.
A whole diocese in Guatemala was forced out — they were just systematically assassinating the priests and they tried twice to assassinate the bishop. Then you have these fundamentalist churches sponsored by Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and the 700 Club sending down missionaries to take the place of these priests and sisters forced out. Our U.S. army helicopters are ferrying in these fundamentalist missionaries to tell the Catholics they have to join the Christian church, because the Catholic church is all communist. The cardinal is supporting all that.