“Red Mexico” usually refers to the time period covering the presidencies of Alvaro Obregón Salido (1920-24) and Plutaro Elías Calles (1924-28) and the dark years of Mexico after the promulgation of the 1917 constitution where the Catholic Church was ruthlessly persecuted. The two regimes came after the Mexican Revolution (1910-20), while the Cristero War, which opposed the anti-clerical laws, took place mostly under Calles. Calles was also directly responsible for the martyrdom of Fr. Miguel Agustin Pro, a Catholic Jesuit, who was falsely accused of sedition and executed without trial. Instead of being condemned for the murder of Fr. Pro and the other countless acts of savagery, Calles’s wretched remains have been placed in a monument in Mexico City.
The intrepid Irish journalist and author Captain Francis McCullagh wrote about his experiences at the time of the events in his chilling and eye-opening book Red Mexico.(1) McCullagh was a witness to the totalitarian methods that the Bolsheviks employed in their takeover of czarist Russia and saw many parallels to what took place in Mexico that inspired much of the nation’s revolutionary leadership. His book, along with Blood-Drenched Altars(2) by Bishop Francis C. Kelley, are but a few which tell the story of how a once great Christian nation’s faith was nearly destroyed and has, quite frankly, never returned to its previous levels. Today, Mexico is basically a secular and pagan mess.
Nearly every great social movement is preceded by a change in ideology. The creation of Mexico was no different, and the vicious rule of Calles can be traced to the changes in ideology which took place in the preceding centuries. Revolutionaries like Calles were shaped by the ideas that began with the Enlightenment and later socialistic philosophies of the 19th and 20th centuries. These beliefs – which led to the radical changes which took place in Mexico – also inspired the French Revolution and the Bolshevik takeover in Russia.
The centerpiece of the “philosophers,” as the 18th century thinkers became known, was a hatred of Christianity, monarchial and aristocratic government and a hierarchical social order. Spain and all that it had accomplished in the New World, therefore, was the embodiment of everything the Enlightenment, socialists, and radical egalitarians wanted to exterminate. Many of the founders of the United States were influenced by this ideology, which thus put the nation on a collision course with Mexico and the rest of Latin America.
Nueva Espańa (New Spain) spread across what is now the southern and southwestern United States, what is now Mexico and the coastal regions of northern South America. Of this vast possession, Mexico was Spain’s jewel in the crown. Under Spain’s enlightened, benevolent and Christian governance, Mexico thrived. One historian remarked that the civilizing of Latin America by Spain is “one of the greatest wonders in world history.” But that success was not to last. “It was not Spain but Mexico that failed. The Spanish left a civilization. It is the Mexican who . . . [destroyed] it.”(3)
This unparalleled accomplishment can be attributed to several factors. First, the taming of Central and South America was done under Christian monarchs. It was the Spanish Crown that was responsible for the country’s overseas explorations and settlement. As Henry Haring describes:
The king possessed not only the sovereign right but the property rights; he was the
absolute proprietor, the sole political head of his American dominions. Every privilege
and position, economic, political, or religious came from him, It was on this basis that the
conquest, occupation, and government of the . . . New World was achieved.(4)
Though it is true that the discovery of the New World came at the time of increasing absolutism, political and economic theory have clearly shown that monarchial governance is far less parasitic and less burdensome on an economy and society than democratic rule. Under kingly rule, the regent sees his kingdom as his personal possession and typically will want to preserve, and hopefully increase, its capital value. Also, a hereditary monarch would have an incentive to maintain a prosperous kingdom since offspring would eventually inherit the realm.
On the other hand, parliaments, congresses and other democratic bodies do not “own” the government and its possessions as kings do, but are “overseers” and thus do not have the same incentive to maintain the state’s capital stock. Instead, since democratic officials and representatives can be voted out in elections, they will seek to exploit the country at far higher rates than monarchs.
Second, and just as important as the type of governance, was the religion which accompanied Spanish rule. From the start, Roman Catholicism was an integral part of the civilization of New Spain, and the religious fervor which imbibed it began from the two regals who funded and encouraged the New World discoveries – King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Pope Alexander VI referred Ferdinand and Isabella as Los Reyes Católicos, “the Catholic monarchs.”
Ferdinand & Isabella
Queen Isabella’s faith was what inspired her to finally drive the last remnants of Muslim occupation from the Spanish peninsula and to remove the Jews who were constantly undermining her reign. The same faith shaped the great queen and her successors’ policies toward the indigenous peoples of the Americas. While the Spanish Crown may have been too lenient and granted the natives too many privileges at the expense of the Spanish colonists, and undoubtedly played too large of a role in Church policy, it must be given immense credit for the Christianization of the millions of pagan souls which it civilized. Moreover, the often maligned conquistadors put an end to the horrific practice of human sacrifice which made Aztec Mexico (and the Incan empire of South America, for that matter) a veritable “hell on Earth” for the unfortunates who fell prey to its diabolical rituals. This is a fact that has, unfortunately, been too often ignored by politically correct historians.
And it must be always remembered that this Catholic legacy was detested by Calles and his cohorts to such a degree that he sought to exterminate it from the land.
What Spain Left
By any objective rendering, Spain left Mexico a flourishing, well ordered and Christian country. After 1821, when Spain was forced out of Mexico, nearly every sector of society suffered immensely under the regimes that followed. There were, of course, members of the new class of political and financial elites, government myrmidons and rulers who proceeded to confiscate, loot, plunder, and destroy nearly all of the property and wealth of the Church and those who had the temerity to oppose their outrageous policies.
In a little over a century, nearly all that Spain had built was destroyed or defaced and replaced with social chaos, economic decline, repression and a lack of any true political representation for the vast majority of Mexicans. It is unlikely that there has been a greater fleecing of a people and a destruction of a civilization on a grander scale in all of history than Mexico after the ousting of Spanish imperial rule.
Though Mexico adopted many of the totalitarian measures of Bolshevik Russia, its political leadership surpassed the Soviets in corruption and personal enrichment. While the Bolsheviks certainly did confiscate and destroy much of czarist Russia’s capital stock, they did try to industrialize the country and used some of the Old Order’s wealth in its production processes. The politicians of Red Mexico and their predecessors made no such pretense, and the little investment that was undertaken came from foreign sources obtained through the bribery of Mexico’s politicos. Moreover, the problems associated with modern Mexico – the land question, agrarian reform, monetary debasement, labor strife and urban poverty – are the result of the corrupt rule of the liberal democratic regimes that ruled Mexico for about 200 years.
The Spanish granted Mexican Indians wide-ranging political rights. “The Indians of colonial Mexico,” Bishop Kelley states, “were practically self governing. They elected their own village authorities [and] allotted their own communal fields.”(5) The Indians could appeal any injustice directly to the Crown, “The King was for the Indian, and to him the clergy had direct access.” And the clergy for the most part saw to it that any violation of Indian rights was “not overlooked.” They could and did report lawbreakers and those officials who covered up crimes to the Crown. “Every Viceroy was held accountable for his Indian charges” while Indians “could demand justice for any injuries with entire freedom.”(6)
Contrary to what is typically taught in modern history texts, Catholicism was not forced upon the natives. They typically embraced it. The natives did inject a certain amount of their own paganism into Catholicism, which disturbed some of the clerics. “In religious matters,” Bishop Kelley shows, “due to the scarcity of priests, [the Indians] exercised a character of independence that still causes some annoyances to the bishops.”(7)
One issue which would plague the liberal democratic regimes, not only in Mexico but across Latin America, was land reform. The ownership of land by the indigenous people was never a problem in New Spain, as Bishop Kelley points out:
We hear much about ‘land for the people’ from the present rulers of Revolutionary
Mexico. But it was Revolutionary Mexico that brought about the need for land. . . .
[U]nder the Spanish regime the Indians lived in villages to which there was assigned a
territory more or less extensive, a part of which was distributed among the families
for their personal use and cultivation, and the remainder served the community for
general purposes, part being cultivated for the general expenses of the village.(8)
What is rarely if ever reported by the court historians is the fact that the agrarian laws of colonial Spain were often taken advantage of by the Indians, which would lead, however, to the latter’s eventually detriment:
The Indian could possess land and did possess it. . . . He was a bit more than
the white man’s equal since the laws were all in his favor. It was, however,
the Indian who accepted his advantages who was the first cause of the decadence
of his people.(9)
Another remarkable achievement of New Spain was education. The Spanish saw education intricately bound with their missionary activities. “The education process,” Bishop Kelley asserts, “concerned not a part of a man but the whole of him; that if it did not reach his heart as well as his mind, it was not education at all. [The Spanish] task was to Christianize the Indian as well as instruct him. With these thoughts in mind, he made the school march side by side with the missionary, so that where the mission was, there too should be the school.”(10)
Despite the costs to the Crown, it took on the burdensome duty to instruct the indigenous:
. . . the King stood behind and took the responsibility for education in Mexico. He
made his will known to the officials, but he worked through the Church. He is entitled
then to share the praise or the blame for success or failure.(11)
Despite the lies and calumnies propagated by the enemies of the Crown and Church, their educational efforts were widely successful. Bishop Kelley rightfully boasts: “Mexico was so full of schools and colleges,” Bishop Kelley rightfully boasts:
Mexico was so full of schools and colleges before the confiscations – schools and colleges for boys and girls, for handicrafts, trades, and arts of all kinds. … there never had been a country on the face of the earth that in so short a time had done so much in an educational way. . . . history presents no finer record of educational achievement and success.(12)
The illiteracy problem and lack of education endemic of post-Revolutionary Mexico was “not of Spain’s making,” but the fault of the liberal democratic regimes which shut down colleges and universities and confiscated their property, while the educational facilities that were not converted or destroyed became indoctrination centers for the succeeding regimes.
Much more could easily be cited of Spain’s accomplishments in Latin America that could fill volume after volume.
American Catholics, Mexico and Calles
What was the reaction by American Catholics to the persecution orchestrated by President Calles during this time in office? Unfortunately, and what must be considered a blight on American Catholics, or more accurately their hierarchy, was the near total lack of support or even empathy for their fellow Catholics below the border who were under the vicious persecution by the Calles regime.
First, most of the Catholic laity simply did not know what was taking place south of the border. The information that made it through came from the American press, largely dominated by non-Catholic editors who had always held an anti-clerical bias and often praised or looked the other way when Mexican leaders plundered the Church. This attitude originated with America’s founders, who were mostly Protestant and influenced by the ideals of the Enlightenment and anti-Catholicism of the English rulers. Also, England and Spain had been bitter rivals long before the American Revolution, stretching back to the time of the Reformation.
More importantly, and not understood within Catholic scholarship even to this day, was that the Church in America had become, in many ways, more “American Catholic” than “Roman Catholic.”(13) Some American Catholics had participated in the country’s founding and often sought exemptions from Rome for religious practices due to its supposed “special status” in the New World. The Vatican typically refused these, and often chastised American Catholicism, as can be seen in Pope Leo XIII’s famous encyclical Longinqua.(14)
Nor did Catholics at the time or later, as they became more populous, have any serious difficulties with the nation’s founding documents or the philosophic beliefs of many of its founders who were decidedly “deist.” Neither have Catholics before, or even to this day, seriously challenged the ideas of religious liberty or separation of church and state,” despite the Catholic Church’s condemnation of such concepts – which it held all the way up to the Second Vatican Council.
American Catholics were, therefore, from the start “Americans first” and “Catholics second,” even to the point when their country supported one of the most ruthless persecutors of the Church. The hierarchy never sought, in any meaningful way, to convert the United States to a Catholic nation. While at first few Catholics participated in the governance of the country, over time, Catholics obtained positions in the state even to its highest corridors of power with appointments to the Supreme Court and eventually to the presidency with the election of John F. Kennedy. Moreover, Catholics participated in nearly all of the country’s foreign interventions despite the fact that they had nothing to do with the spread of the Faith, but were part of the America’s ascendancy to a world secular empire.
Despite Spain’s crucial support during the American Revolution, the new nation, almost from its inception, sought to expand its territory at the expense of Spain and, later, independent Mexico. Jefferson wrote of an empire incorporating Mexican land as did James Monroe. Later Southern politicians, seeking to increase the number of slave states, envied and eventually obtained Mexican land to balance off Northern free states.
While Manifest Destiny was certainly part of America’s relations with its southern neighbor, there was a fundamental religious factor which governed U.S. foreign policy. American politicos, for the most part, held a deep dislike for Catholicism. While Mexico became a secular state with “religious liberty,” it remained for the longest time overwhelmingly Catholic in all aspects of its culture.
Subverting Catholicism among American politicians went beyond Latin America. Often overlooked was the fact that U.S. entry into WWI was driven, in part, by President Wilson’s contempt of Catholic Austria. His nefarious maneuvering to bring the U.S. into the conflict not only ended the Austrian dynasty, but brought the downfall of the German and Russian monarchies. Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn describes Wilson’s thoughts toward Austria:
Austria was far more wicked than Germany. It existed in contradiction of the Mazzinian
principle of the national state, it had inherited many traditions as well as symbols from Holy
Roman Empire . . . its dynasty once ruled over Spain . . . it had led the Counter-Reformation,
headed the Holy Alliance, fought against the Risorgimento, suppressed the Magyar rebellion
under Kossuth . . . and morally supported the monarchial experiment in Mexico.(15)
In particular, it was Austria’s Catholicism that was most repellent to Wilson:
Habsburg – the very name evoked memories of Roman Catholicism, of the Armada, the
Inquisition, Metternich, Lafayette jailed at Olmütz, and Silvio Pellico in Brünn’s Spiel
Berg fortress. Such a state had to be shattered, such a dynasty had to disappear.(16)
American foreign policy invariably sided with the most liberal, socialistic, and egalitarian of Mexico’s politicos and strongmen. Moreover, when an actual “conservative” Mexican regime obtained power (conservative in the sense that it was somewhat lenient in the confiscation of Church property and lax in the enforcement of anti-clerical laws), American politicians, mostly from the executive branch, would seek to undermine or overthrow them.
Captain Francis McCullagh’s Red Mexico
Of course, U.S. involvement and theft of land was wrapped in the noblest of intentions. Francis McCullagh, an eyewitness to the reign of terror of Calles, spoke of America’s “altruistic” policy:
. . . Uncle Sam interfered constantly for seventy long years, always on the side
of the Socialistic, disruptive, anti-Catholic party. He [Uncle Sam] asserted definitely,
every time he interfered, that his only object was to help the cause of liberty, education,
true religion, and good government, but somehow or other he managed to annex a
substantial slice of Mexican territory after every one of these philanthropic crusades.(17)
McCullagh contends that only through U.S. interference was it possible that the Calles regime and those which came before it were eventually able to strip from the souls of the Mexican people their Catholic culture:
[Uncle Sam] has done worse to that unfortunate country than deprive her
of half her territory; he has forced on her a Socialistic and anti-religious gang
which could never have got into power without American assistance, and which
will keep her forever weak, divided and undeveloped.(18)
Plutaro Elías Calles
The most vicious assault on Catholicism, which can only be described as diabolical, took place under the presidential reign of Calles and during the time when he held a position in the government of his predecessor Alvaro Obregón Salido. Calles ranks as one of the worst sociopaths in human history; a bigger monster cannot be imagined. His rule was the very antithesis of that of the Spanish monarchs.
While Calles certainly enriched himself and his cronies of state funds, and was vindictive toward his enemies, real and imagined, they were secondary to his rabid hatred of the Church – a similar mindset and emotional condition that many of the French revolutionaries and Russian Bolsheviks possessed in their wars against Christianity.
Where did Calles’s extraordinary hatred for Catholicism originate? McCullagh postulated that it may have been the dictator’s racial makeup. While sketchy and with “the disappearance of every record of his birth,” what is known is that Calles was probably illegitimate, born to a Mexican mother. His father was Syrian, probably of Turkish origin. Calles was known in his home town as “El Turco” (The Turk), which McCullagh contends may help “explain his intense hatred for Christianity.”(19)
Yet, McCullagh reports that there had been accounts that Calles may have been a member of another ethnic group with a primordial enmity for Christianity:
Writing in the February (1928) Reflex, a Jewish monthly published in the
United States, a Mr. Adolphe de Castro, himself a Jew and formerly American
consul in Madrid, claims Calles and Aaron Saenz as Hebrews, and declares
that the existing persecution is ‘an act of retributive justice rare in the
annals of history.’(20)
McCullagh ranks Calles’s persecution of the Church on a par with that of Nero. While Nero’s intentions were not clear, the motivations behind Calles’s reign of terror certainly were. Nearly everyone who had the displeasure of conversing with the Mexican dictator was struck by his contempt for the Catholic Church. A Protestant correspondent who interviewed Calles on religious matters was “appalled by the abyss of hate which lay behind the dictator’s words.” He told McCullagh: “I saw behind his words not only a life-time of hate, but many generations of hate. Moreover, in his whole mentality he is strikingly un-Mexican.”(21)
McCullagh tells of another friend, a diplomat, who told him “that, every time the Catholic Church was mentioned, [President Calles] grew black in the face and pounded the table with his fist.” The friend added: “Of all the members of the government, Calles is the only one who takes the matter to heart in this way. The others are mostly actuated by greed.” McCullagh had a somewhat different take, saying, “while the others are actuated only be greed, Calles is actuated by both greed and fanaticism.”(22)
While Mexico had anticlerical laws on the books before Calles came to power, the Political Constitution of the United Mexican States and its articles, which he had a hand in crafting, dramatically ramped up the persecution of the Church. In fact, Calles came to power, in part, because the previous regime had not enforced the anti-Church legislation vigorously enough in the minds of the radicals. Some of the prohibitions against the Church’s role in education included:
- Prohibition of any minister or religion to teach in a school public or private
- Prohibition of religious corporations or ministers of any religious creed from establishing or directing primary schools
- All teachers and curriculum must be under the direction of the Federal government
- Clergymen prohibited to maintain any institution of scientific research
- Religious teaching orders prohibited
The Church was completely absorbed by the state. Article 130 says: “The law recognizes no juridical personality in the religious institutions known as churches.”
It deprived churches of all means of redress and protection, denied appeal to congress or to the courts to enforce property rights. Any petition to the government about confiscations would mean loss of citizenship.
Restrictions on Church services and religious groups were instituted:
- It was forbidden that any person not a Mexican by birth could be a minister of any religious creed:
- If a Mexican by birth becomes a minister of a religious creed, he loses his vote as a citizen and cannot hold office;
- A minister of a religious creed could not receive a legacy or inherit by will from ministers of the same religious creed or from any private individual to whom they are not related by blood within the fourth degree;
- No trial by jury of any infractions of the above laws for religious figures; and
- Prohibition on the training of priests and formation of religious groups.(23)
While Calles carried out many of the same anti-clerical measures that his predecessors took, he relished in their implementation. He took special delight in the hounding, humiliation and murder of priests and religious leaders. Michael Kenny in No God Next Door, describes the conditions of priests and the conducting of religious services in Red Mexico:
Priests are legally expelled from more than half the dioceses and little more than two
hundred are tolerated in the remainder;. . . . Arrest and imprisonment of priests is an
almost daily newspaper item, and the legal penalty for saying Mass or of any
religious ministration is five hundred pesos and thirty days imprisonment, subject to
The sad saga of the destruction of the Christian civilization in what became known as Mexico can be seen as part of a larger historical trend that witnessed the rise of the secular, democratic nation state at the expense of Christianity and the patriarchal social and political order.
While the US’s support of the radical regimes which dethroned Catholic Mexico has been effective, Divine Providence may have the last laugh. The mass illegal immigration along the southern border is not composed of the productive, Christianized peoples nurtured by the Church and Crown, but is mostly made up of the poverty-stricken, crass and semi-pagan offspring of Calles and the other despotic strongmen which led to the creation of Red Mexico.
This essay is dedicated to the memory of the historian William Thomas Walsh, September 11, 1891- January 22, 1949.
(1) Captain Francis McCullagh, Red Mexico: A Reign of Terror in America, New York: Louis Carrier & Co., 1928.
(2) Most Rev. Francis Clement Kelley, Blood-Drenched Altars: A Catholic Commentary on the History of Mexico, Rockford, Ill.: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1987; 1935.
(3) Kelley, Blood-Drenched Altars, p. 13.
(4) Henry Clarence Haring, The Spanish Empire in America, New York, NY.: Oxford University Press, p. 7.
(5) Kelley, Blood-Drenched Altars, p. 73.
(6) Ibid., p. 65.
(7) Ibid., p. 73.
(8) Ibid., pp. 71-72.
(9) Ibid., p. 72.
(10) Ibid., pp. 79-80.
(11) Ibid., p. 80.
(12) Ibid., pp. 100-101.
(13) See the provocative works of Solange Hertz, Utopia, ‘Nowhere’ – Now Here: On the Confrontation Between the Universal Republic and the Reign of Christ the King, Santa Monica, CA.: Veritas Press, 1993.
(14) Longinqua, Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on Catholicism in the United States, 1895, http://www.vatican.va.
(15) Quoted in Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Democracy: The God That Failed: The Economics and Politics of Monarchy, Democracy, and Natural Order, New Brunswick, USA: Transaction Publishers, 2001, p. x.
(17) McCullagh, Red Mexico, p. 22.
(19) McCullagh, Red Mexico, p. 124.
(20) Ibid., p. 125.
(21) Ibid., p. 152.
(22) Ibid., p. 153.
(23) Kelley, Blood-Drenched Altars, pp. 261-268.
(24) Michael Kenny, S.J. No God Next Door: red Rule in Mexico and Our Responsibility, New York: William J. Hirten Co., Inc., 1935, p. 154.
Posted by editors/9-18-’20