Who would have guessed that when the Episcopal Church of America let Puerto Rico have its own independent confederation years ago to encourage local develoment, that it would be led by a separatist-activist bishop- The Rev. David Alvarez. A man, born to a Roman Catholic priest and a RC Nun that left the RC church to become Episcopalians, Alvarez has become a leader with two other RC bishops in the island campaign for PAZ or peace for the 'little-girl' adjacent island of Vieques.
The campaign trys to look like a moral Crusade against a perceived immorality concerning the behavior of the U.S. Navy in using part of its land at the eastern end of Vieques as a training ground for live ammunition bombing and shelling. The bishops and the separatists or "Independentistas" as the independence party with 4% of the PR population behind it, have joined forces in this battle.
Read here to find out if the perceived support of all of the people or even a majority is real or just contrived.
Save the Episcopal Church in Puerto Rico
by Richard R.Tryon
This section is dedicated to those who have a genuine desire to help the Episcopal Church in P.R. save its members from the destructive campaign for a so-called “Paz a Vieques”, led not by its clergy or laity, but almost all alone, by its bishop, The Rev. David Alvarez.
Evidences that have come from my travels around the island reveal that a surprising number of laity and clergy are upset by the role of the bishop in the campaign for “Paz a Vieques”. Why? Who can be against peace? Or justice, health, and love, for that matter- all of which are claimed to be missing in sufficient measure in Vieques only because of the presence and practices of the U.S. Navy.
This campaign grew out of the tragic accidental death of a civilian guard who happened to be a Puerto Rican man. His father may have led the march for support of U.S. citizenship, but he is perceived by at least two Roman Catholic bishops, the Episcopal bishop, a Methodist bishop and perhaps others as well, as a man who is a victim of Navy disregard for human life- a sin!
That the accident took a strange combination of the juxtaposition of a pair of 500# bombs dropped deliberately three miles off dead center by a pilot ,who knew that was still a safe area to drop his ordinance, so that he could avoid running out of fuel before returning to his carrier, is viewed as irrelevant by these church leaders. To them, all military preparation is sinful.
By adding one or more allegations via incomplete medical reports, the public was encouraged to believe, with media help, that the ordinance dropped on the island is causing cancer among the population, birth defects, and unknown illnesses that could relate, for example, to such scare notices as the fact that a number of uranium tipped shells were accidentally shot at island targets. Although none of the handlers or producers of these shells is aware of any nuclear hazard, nor has Rubén Berríos fallen ill or exploded in his ten month encampment, the media quickly broadcast or prints such allegations, without requiring any proof.
One of the possible reasons for the bishop’s lack of awareness of the level of support from his own clergy and laity, is that he has no time to seek their input. He is so busy with running the wonderful hospitals that the government has sold to the church and the campaign to encourage separation from the U.S. via the running battle over Vieques, that he just doesn’t know how much support he enjoys or lacks.
It is the purpose of this Opinion article to try to find out the answer to these questions by offering here a page that can be copied off the net and printed so that many can write and respond with an indication of their feeling.
To avoid retribution, the clergy do not have to sign their names to such documents. They may prefer to just show an ‘X’ to show clergy vs laity. If these documents are sent to
MSC 231 P.O. Box 888
Humacao, P.R. 00792
We will tabulate them and publish here the results and also forward copies to the office of the bishop so he can have this information and consider modifications to his position; or encouragement to the group to consider a different church structure than the one for which he enjoys permanent tenure along with current fiscal support from the Episcopal Church in America! Of course, once that body becomes aware of the campaign for separation, hiding as a campaign for “Paz a Vieques”, the fiscal support from the U.S. church may become an example to be followed by the U.S. Congress. If it chooses to support the need for Naval training with live ammunition and the citizens of P.R. choose to employ, what looks like something that clerical leaders support called “Civil Disobedience”, it may elect to stop spending money in P.R. and move its military bases to the states, where they are always in demand and welcome.
Apparently mainland Americans,who are citizens that pay taxes, assume a stronger position in favor of assuming responsibilities for their citizenship than do their brethren in P.R., who are denied the chance to vote. Perhaps that ‘slight’ to the people of PR explains a lot. But, if the people of PR in general, and Episcopalians, in particular want to avoid such an appearance, then they need to encourage a new action for P.R. Not a march with white flags, but a demand that the P.R. government remove the law breakers from the beaches, so that training can go forth in accordance with the presidential directive. If the island politicians lack the courage to act, Congress will react.
Perhaps if the bishop had received the following letter, there might have been a chance to participate in this call for an expression of united concern. The team of would be supporters just did not have the courage to take up the cause against the noise of the media and the perceived authority of the bishop.
Among the many evidences of disagreement with the actions of the bishop are a large number of letters being published in the island newspapers. Although none yet have been collected that were written en español, such can be added here!
Here is an example of one written in English by Carlos Salazar of San Juan, that was published in the San Juan Star on March 5, 2000, that is entitled:
Church should appreciate Vieques deal
The settlement of the Vieques issue might move along faster if it weren’t being milked for its political value. The agreement whereby the Navy could leave as early as within three years is a workable solution to a very touchy issue for both sides. It offers a tangible trajectory for meeting the viequenses’ claims, and serious leaders should work within this accord.
It is unfortunate that the Popular Democratic Party’s political scavengers and the Republican hawks in Congress have chosen to extend the issue in search of political mileage. May they both lose out in the next elections. The bonafide pro-independence groups will naturally hold out longer. After all, for a century they have sought to end both civil and U.S. military presence in Puerto Rico, and there’s no reason for them to stop trying now. In the light of our unreresolved status, theirs is clearly a legitimate position.
As for the churches position on the immorality of the Navy, they should remember that the Navy didn’t invent war any more than the bishop invented the crusades or the inquisition. Bigotry, greed and thirst for power engender the evils of secular and holy wars.
The churches have experienced the difficulty of dealing with human imperfections and should be the first to appreciate the opportunity for peace that Clinton and Rosselló managed to work out.”
This story is still unfolding...
Update of Mar. 16, 2000:
Another of many such letters, published on Mar 16, 2000 in the San Juan Star is written by Jaime L. González of San Juan. The same issue includes pictures of the RC Archbishop Roberto González Nieves (no relation) and another includes a 'stone-faced' shot of the Episcopal bishop Alvarez, staring straight ahead, as one of the clerical leaders attempting to act like his flock is behind him. It is not! The clergy are afraid to actively oppose the man who channels money from the mainland Episcopal church to them! The laity are not yet aroused as a group, but individuals from all faiths are encouraged to post their letters here and to run an effort to gather a petition for terminating clericalism in politics. For Episcopalians, the vitality and survival of the Episcopal Church of Puerto Rico is more at stake as it lacks the resources of the larger RC church.
Here is the letter:
"Archbishop should represent all in his diocese
To: Archbishop Roberto González
I am a Catholic and a statehooder. I, too, would like to see the Navy cease its live bombing practices in Vieques, but only if it does not compromise our nation's security, and only if it is done as the result of a reasonable and orderly process.
I also reside in the San Juan Diocese, the reason why I addressed my comments only to Archbishop González. It is disappointing that one of of the first references to moral issues made by our archbishop was in reference to the claim that the U.S. Navy's bombing practices in Vieques are "immoral."
As much as I have researched the archbishop's prior public statements, I have not found even one reference to his claiming that the U.S. Armed Forces' military exercises on military bases in Texas, the state where our archbishop formerly practiced his pastoral duties, were immoral.
Does González feel that these practices are immoral in Vieques yet moral in Texas?
Puerto Rico has been blessed to be under the United Sates of America for the last 102 years. If we had not benefited from the largesse of the United States, we would still be the "Poorhouse of the Caribbean." On the contrary, we now enjoy one of the highest standards of living of any island in the Caribbean, a blessing to all our fellow citizens. I thank God everyday for this blessing and pray that we will never lose it.
I know that a lot of Puerto Ricans feel the same way I do. Those of us who are Catholics are ashamed and saddened that the pastoral leader of our diocese found it necessary, or convenient, to get involved in an issue that is currently being exploited by opportunistic politicians from various political parties.
Your excellency, please concentrate on the pastoral needs of your flock. Candidates Pesquera, Caulderón and Berríos are very capable of taking care of our political needs under the protection grated to them by the Constitution of the United States, which served as the model for that of Puerto Rico, and whose doctrine of separation of church and state is consistent with the teaching s of our lord of "rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and unto God that which is God's."
I do not begrudge you your constitutional right to free association. As an individual you are free to choose your personal political affiliation. However, as pastoral leader of your diocese, you have a responsibility to all the residents of the San Juan Diocese, be they "estadistas, populares, o independentistas.". Do not neglect any of us. If you do, the Catholic Church will continue to lose active members, as it has during the last few years, the loss of a lot more people than showed up for the Vieques march."
by Jaime L. González of San Juan
Update of Mar. 26, 2000
The San Juan Star once again built the Sunday issue to bring forth the ‘big guns’ of journalism to bear on the subject of the P.R. ‘Holy War’. Strangely, the church seems a little bit subdued as in the past two weeks it appears that many avenues have been active in holding back on the rhetoric delivered by church leaders. But, J.M Garcia Passalaqua brings forth the interesting historical point that relates to the definite fact that some in P.R. have sought independence way before the U.S. had anyone living in it except the so-called native born Americans or Indians!
The relevance to be understood is a bit obscure. What does it mean when we observe that men who lived 400 years ago on P.R. wanted to be independent of Spain? Did they not die? Oh, perhaps we are to assume that their ideas were in their genes and that these genes related then to circumstances that are identical to those that genes relate to now? A bit far fetched, but ok. So what?
Should all men and women of P.R. join such thinking and praise the notion of a parade in NYC for P.R. that features a way to honor a ‘patriot’ who killed many of his political enemies? Because such attempts to murder U.S. Congressmen and a president in 1952 can be excused as just efforts for freedom from colonial oppression by those who want to believe that oppression was then and is still so bad that no other avenue is available to escape?
Most folks in P.R. sense no inability to leave P.R. or to vote for independence. They just don’t see the reason to do either. Of course, they do leave for travel to any part of the world freely and they do have a right to vote for independence rather than ‘none of the above’, but they don’t. Dominicans die every week trying to get into PR, so it may be better here now than it was 400 years ago or even in 1952?
Once again Alex Maldonado comes in to explain how the Commonwealth option is the best possible choice. He is right! And he notes that every state in the Union would be happy to trade their current status to be the only one with the relationship desired on a permanent basis by the PDP stalwarts. But, one thing is certain as a result of the ‘noise’ over Vieques- and stories about the sound of noise from bombs in Florida will not have any bearing on the positions of Congress- once the natives of America get excited about the civil disobedience in PR.
The Congress does reflect the mood of the people of the states that vote for their representatives. Do not look surprised, if the Congress chooses to consider bills to separate the U.S. from P.R. rather than to define which men, women and children of Vieques will have a vote to determine if the U.S. Navy stays or leaves. The Congress could decide to move the people off of Vieques, as was almost done in 1960, when Marín could not stomach the idea of also moving the dead. If that happens to cause all of PR to rise up in protest, then the Congress will just keep Roosevelt Roads as it does the base at the east end of Cuba called Guantanimó and let the objectors run PR without help from Washington.
Of course, most will pray that Congress will not be so rash or harsh in support of the real people of PR- the ones that do not speak up to tell the trouble makers on the beach to go home! On balance, it appears that Berríos is still winning.
Update of Mar 29, 2000
This letter was written by Noel Piñeiro of Mayagüez and printed in the San Juan Star on Mar. 27, 2000 It contains an excellent summary of the history of how the Roman Catholic church got involved in Liberation Theology and is now so active in PR politics.
“Archbishop Roberto González Nievers following the church’s new course and directives
Rep. Melinda Romero is collecting signatures to petition the Holy Father to issue a reprimand against Archbishop Roberto González Nieves for his support of the six-decade struggle of the people of Vieques.
The reading from the pulpit of the Homily by candidate Sila Calderón is just the excuse. Of course she has a right to present her grievance. The Holy Father will take note of it with great respect as usual, but I do not believe for a moment that she will be successful.
Pope John Paul II has been a champion of awakening Christian consciences to a sense of justice, social responsibility, solidarity with the poor and the oppressed.
I will quote from “Instructions on Certain Aspects” of the “Theology of Liberation,” Chapter V, Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Each one of these statements espouse the church adherence to the “Theology of Liberation.” What Archbishop González Nieves has been doing is precisely following the church’s new course and directives.
1. In order to answer the challenge leveled at our times by oppression and hunger, the church’s Magisterium has freequently expressed her desire to awaken Christian consciences to a sense of justice, social responsibility and solidarity with the poor and the oppressed, and to highlight the present urgency of the doctrine and imperatives contained in Revelation.
2. The papal documents: “Mater et Magistra, “ “Pacem in Terra, “ Populorum porgressio,” and “Evangelii nuntiandi.” We should likewise mention the letter to Cardinal Roy, “Octogesima adveniens.”
3. The Second Vatican Council in turn confronted the questions of justice and liberty in Pastoral Constitution, “Gaudium et Spes.”
4. On a number of occasions, the Holy Father has emphasized these themes, in particular in the encyclicals “Redemptor hominis,” “Dives in misericordia,” and “Laborem exercens.” These numerous addresses recall the doctrine of the rights of man and touch directly on the problems of the liberation of the human person in the face of the diverse kinds of oppression of which he is the victim. It is especially important to mention in this convection the address given before the 26th General Assembly of the United Nations in New Your, Oct. 2, 1979.  On Jan. 28 of that same years, while opening the third conference of CELAM in Puebla, Pope John Paul II affirmed that the complete truth about man is the basis for any real liberation. This text is a document which bears directly upon the theology of liberation.
5. Twice the Synod of bishops which are directly related to a Christian conception of liberation: 1971, justice in the world, and in 1974, the relationship between freedom from oppression and full freedom or the salvation of mankind.
The work of the Synods of 1971 and 1974 led Paul VI in the Apostolic constitution “Evangelii nuntiandi” to clarify the connection between evangelization and human liberation of advancement.
6. The concern for the church for liberation and for human advancement was also expressed in the establishment of the Pontifical Commission, Justice and Peace.
7. Numerous national Episcopal conferences have joined the Holy See in recalling the urgency of authentic human liberation and the routes by which to achieve it. In this context, special mention should be made of the documents of the general conferences of the Latin American Episcopate at Medellin in 1968 and at Puebla in 1979. Paul VI was present at the Medellin conference and John Paul II was at Puebla. Both dealt with the themes of conversion and liberation.
8. Following Paul VI, who had incited on the distinctive character of the Gospel message,  a character which is of divine origin, John Paul II, in his address at Puebla, recalled the three pillars upon which any authentic theology of liberation will rest: truth about Jesus Christ, truth about the church and truth about mankind.
Archbishop González is only a good shepherd who has espoused the cause of Vieques and wants to bring to an end the terrible ordeal that these humble and defenseless people have gone through for 60 years.”
If you have read the above letter as a scholar of the history of the Roman Catholic church, I doubt that you will have found any error of dates, places, or Latin names of documents or dogma. In short, nobody is going to punch holes in the fact that the good Archbishop comes forward with the full support of the official position of the RC church!
Readers of the subject of ‘clericalism’ in Chapter XIV of the Richard R. Tryon book entitled “You Can’t Escape God” will find that this type of church dogma is not new! If anything it is a revival of a call for church authority to rule man’s behavior by application of laws and dogma held in the hands of spiritual leaders, who must have none but the most pure of motivations. These dogma are part of the history of the study of the biblical book of Revelations.
Nobody will challenge that any of the Popes that fomented the Crusades or the Inquisition had any other but the most pure of motiivations! At the start of the third millennium, the good Pope John Paul II may have offered an apology and confession for the sins of the church in the first two milleniums, but there is little evidence to support the idea that such mistakes can’t happen in the new millennium. Considering the dogma of infallibility on moral matters, one wonders how did such mistakes ever happen in the past; or how could they be happening now?
The current case in point, involving the tiny island of Vieques where about one quarter of one percent of the people of PR live, is being put forth as the ideal example of why the Church must make a moral stand to defend the poor and oppressed of this island! These people are described above as having to suffer an “ordeal that these humble and defenseless people have gone through for 60 years.”
As contrasted to what any similar sized group has experienced on the main island of PR, this statement is only possible, if data are present to give dimension to such agony! For example, if the population which sixty years ago was one tenth its current size, had been decimated by disease, or premature death from wanton attack by some evil outside force, then we would expect the population to have shrunk, unless somehow more people could be induced to move to such a horrible environment. Of course, this is not how the population grew ten fold!
Every day on the main island of PR, people are murdered, raped, beaten, robbed, and subdued at a far greater pace. Why then does the Church pick on Vieques as the focal point of the liberation theology crusade? The answer is simple, but in several parts:
1. Vieques is remote to most of the people of PR, therefore, it is hard for them to judge fact from fiction. Statements are hard to verify and claims are easy to exaggerate.
2. Claims of death rates from military causes of the training of the U.S. Navy are especially attractive to those that want to foment a cause, because no blame is cast upon any other part of the native population of PR. All emotional response is directed at foreign influences.
3. Claims from presumed health hazards are equally easy to make and tough t disprove.
However, the truth has a way of worming its way to the surface over time. The trick for those who want to foment a special social action, is to move fast enough that the truth doesn’t come out until the desired deed is done. This is why the priests tried to call for a decision that they would negotiate for the people without their having to approve except in an immediate way via a sign of anger over the claims being made.
What then are the desired deeds?
First, the Church is supportive of the dogma of liberation that provides the way for the faithful to reproduce and pay homage to the church by its active acceptance of the need to pray to God through the intervention of the holy leaders.
2. Replacing dependence upon the U.S. Navy for economic support must be done via social legislation that will give special advantage to those exposed to terrible disadvantage. Although protesters living on the beach of the bomb practice area are far removed from those that have lived for sixty years on Vieques, they are the only ones exposed to whatever level of danger exists from such potential risk as come from playing inside a bombed tank that happened to have been accidentally hit by DU tipped shells. It may have happened to one or more military personnel in the Persian Gulf War, but it is not a significant risk to those on Vieques. But, if you don’t know, you can be easily scared! So far, none of them has been shown off as a dead martyr to the cause.
3. Separation of PR from the mainland of the U.S. will not bother the Roman Catholic church. After all, its official connection between Rome and PR lives in the Dominican Republic! Nor will it bother the bishop of the Episcopal Church of PR, as he is independent of the Episcopal Church of America in the U.S.
If the church leaders can help the Independence party achieve a legal separation from the U.S. with sufficient support payments from the U.S. to help the ‘transition’, then the poor will benefit?
Well, you get the picture. Too bad that the priests don’t know when the secular world has to figure out solutions to secular problems, independent of the history of church dogma and clerical direction.
Update of April 3, 2000:
It is somewhat apparent that the energy behind the campaign for "Paz a Vieques" has slowed. News of demands for audiences with the U.S. President to renegotiate his directives has vanished! Perhaps some of the laity have already been heard. Perhaps some of the organizational structure of the Roman Catholic church has slowed the pace of leadership among two bishops in PR. Perhaps a withdrawal of support from the Methodist bishop or lack of growing support from other Protestant groups has combined to cause a momentary appearance of a new 'wait and see' attitude.
It is very noteworthy that the NPP candidate for Governor, Carlos Pesquera has publicly called for those living the act of civil disobedience in Camp García to leave! It is easy to dismiss his call as that of an obedient slave to the idea of statehood for PR. But, those that think about it in the PDP or Popular party will also have to admit that the 'status quo' could be lost to independence, if PR manages to "bite the hand that feeds it"!
Pushing for recognition of an infamous terrorist zealot for independence as a national hero in a NYC parade may make some in PR feel like 'first class' nationalists. It will not convince anyone in the mainland that support for PR makes any sense. Why take U.S. tax dollars and send them to PR to fund those that will come and shoot our Representatives and even at a U.S. President (Harry Truman in 1952)?
If PR can not mount a public outcry to get the Commonwealth to be as obedient to the needs of the national defense as do all other parts of the union, then the Congress will get the message that it is time to free the last of the strange 'booty' that came with the end of the Spanish-American war of 1898.
One interesting idea of a way to do this is to launch a campaign to help Vieques's falling down Episcopal mission, with help of the U.S. Navy, as a sign of the real will of PR to let the democratic process of the President's directive occur and then see how it looks. Despite outrageous publicity of terrible dangers, none of the campers has managed to blow up from unexploded ordinance. None has been shown to have contracted radiation sickness living, not twelve miles away, but in the practice bombing zone!
Those interested in such an effort, to be done, without the help of the Diocese, which has denied funding of $9,600 to save the building may e-mail this page to inform the writer.
Update of Oct. 09, 2000
Here is a typical example of what finally comes out in the news, months after all of the damage has been made because people were mislead. Not just any common person in the street, but even a bishop of the Episcopal Church. He really thought and may still that somehow his lack of education in science is not a handicap- the Navy must have caused cancer!
Here is what a more extensive study shows:
Study Examines Vieques Radiation
By MANUEL RIVERA
.c The Associated Press
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - Radiation levels on most of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques are below normal, a government study concluded, contradicting claims by critics of Navy bombing activities there.
``Vieques is a paradise with low levels of radiation,'' said Luis Reyes, regional director of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, at a news conference Wednesday.
Spots of higher radiation were found along the bombing range, in an area where a jet accidentally fired 263 shells tipped with depleted uranium in February 1999, the NRC reported. The Navy found only 116 of the rounds.
But there was no evidence that radioactive particles had blown or been carried by water to civilian areas, about 10 miles from the range, Reyes said.
``Outside the shooting range there was no radiation apart from natural radiation,'' Reyes said, adding that ``background'' radiation was also very low.
Angry anti-Navy activists interrupted the news conference and contested the findings. They claim the military exercises have caused health problems among the island's 9,400 residents, including a high cancer rate.
``If the Navy doesn't go, people are going to continue dying,'' said one activist, Sarah Peisch.
Experts took 114 samples of water, soil and plants for analysis. Only five samples - soil taken from holes where shells were recovered - showed high uranium levels, scientists said.
Residents could only be contaminated by picking up a depleted uranium shell and rubbing it against the skin, Reyes said. In June, he told reporters that prolonged contact would cause a sunburn-like injury.
Navy opponents have cited the uranium accident in their battle to force the military out of Vieques. Firing the depleted uranium on Vieques violated federal regulation, Reyes said, but the commission did not fine the Navy because it promised to improve the way it tracks ammunition.
The Navy owns two-thirds of the 20-by-four mile island, including a bombing range on the eastern tip.
President Clinton has pledged the Navy will abandon the island by May 2003 if residents vote in a referendum to expel it. That vote is expected before mid-2002.
Don't expect the people of PR to accept this report as being anything but a biased effort to cover up the facts! There 100 years of colonial handling by high-handed men from Washington along with 400 years before that from Spain make it hard for them to believe any such study. Not even if one of them did the study is it likely that they will change their minds.
The average mind-set among too many is like that of Charles Darwin who set out to prove that the Bible's story of creation was scientifically correct and hid for seven years the discovery that evolution is far more complicated and takes a lot more time then the world's first readers could comprehend. In PR it is best to make the facts fit the mood of the people. That is why 85% of them vote in each election.
What next on this story? It is hard to predict because often a story can die-down in PR and then be re-ignited by some sudden event. This, of course, is what happened on the status story when the Vieques flap errupted over the tragic accident.
Stay tuned...more is sure to come.
|Previous Chapter||Next Chapter|