Fri, Nov 10, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Mexico City's cathedral threatens to stop services

AP , MEXICO CITY

The leftist mayor of Mexico City pledged on Wednesday to step up security at the city's Roman Catholic cathedral after the church threatened to cancel services there following noisy protests by leftist demonstrators.

The possible cancelation of Masses, which could be extended to other locations, is part of a months-long dispute involving supporters of a protest movement in the southern state of Oaxaca and followers of former leftist presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Mayor Alejandro Encinas, a member of Lopez Obrador's party, said clerics had angered protesters by making political statements -- something they are forbidden by law from doing.

"These incursions into the cathedral are unacceptable," Encinas told a news conference.

He added, however, that "there is mutual responsibility, both on the part of the clerics and the people who might disagree with the political statements they make."

He said the city had contacted church authorities about plans to provide better security at the towering cathedral located in the city's main square.

During the summer, police were posted outside the church after Lopez Obrador's supporters repeatedly interrupted Masses -- sometimes engaging in shoving and shouting matches with parishioners or church security guards.

On Sunday, a group of several dozen demonstrators with their hands covered in red paint to simulate blood interrupted a service at the cathedral celebrated by Cardinal Norberto Rivera.

The protesters chanted "assassin" and claimed Rivera had supported federal police intervention in the Oaxaca conflict.

At an impromptu news conference following a recent Sunday Mass, Rivera made relatively vague statements about the need for law and order in Oaxaca, where leftist protesters seized the city for five months until federal police were sent in to restore order last month.

"The intolerance of these radical and violent groups who have attacked Cardinal Rivera did not achieve their goal of silencing him," the archdiocese of Mexico said in a news release.

"In the case of any new violent incursion, and if the authorities cannot guarantee the safety of parishioners, the Archdiocese of Mexico reserves the right to cancel Masses at the cathedral, and could extend that measure," he said.

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