Méndez, Ramón Ignacio
MÉNDEZ, RAMÓN IGNACIO
Venezuelan archbishop and patriot, defender of the rights of the Church against the encroachments of the civil government; b. Barihas, Venezuela, 1775; d. Villeta, Colombia, August 1839. In the Royal Pontifical University of Caracas, he received the degrees of licentiate and doctor of philosophy in theology and in canon and civil law, and the title of lawyer. During several periods, he was a professor of both civil and canon law. In 1797 he was ordained and went to serve as parish priest in Barinas. In 1802 he was named vicar-general of the Diocese of Mérida, which he had occasion to govern several times. He taught canon law in the Collegiate Seminary of St. Bonaventure in Mérida; and, after being appointed rector in 1805, he obtained for the institution the right to confer graduate degrees in philosophy, theology, and Canon Law.
Among the patriots in Venezuela favoring independence from Spain in 1810 were many priests, including Méndez. He was named deputy to the Constituent Assembly in 1811 by the province of Barinas. As a signer of the Declaration of Independence, he was one of the founders of the nation. As he visited the towns in the llanos entrusted to his spiritual care, he also acted as a courier for Bolívar during the campaign of 1813. He was also a chaplain in the patriot armies, with Páez in 1816 and later with Bolívar in Guayana. He served as a deputy in the congresses of Angostura and of Cúcuta and in the congress in Bogotá from 1823 to 1826. Such activities did not interfere with his priestly duties. He was archdeacon of the cathedral of Caracas and maestrescuela in the cathedral of Bogotá. He was chosen archbishop of Caracas in 1823 with the full approval of Bolívar, who appreciated his talents, his patriotism, and his priestly character. He was consecrated on Feb. 18, 1828, and Caracas enthusiastically received its new archbishop whom it recognized also as a hero of the revolution.
The 1830 Venezuelan constitution denied certain rights and liberties of the Church, and Archbishop Méndez pointed out changes that would have to be made in it before he could swear to the constitution. Since his suggestions were not accepted, he refused to take the oath and was immediately expelled from the country. The bishops of Mérida and Guayana made common cause with him and they too were exiled. Within a year and a half, the exile was ended because "the Chief Executive had agreed to a means by which we might be able to swear by the Constitution of the State without contradicting the duties of our holy office," according to the archbishop's explanation. Late in 1836 another political-religious conflict arose. The government, in an arbitrary use of the Law of Patronage—without an agreement with the Holy See—established budgetary allowances for the offices of the dean and archdeacon of the cathedral and presented the candidates for the positions. The archbishop considered those allowances unacceptable and refused to install the would-be dignitaries. Again the government expelled the archbishop. For almost three years he lived on the island of St. Thomas and later in Curaçao. Because of his ill health, he then traveled to Colombia, where he died upon arriving near Bogotá. In 1942 his remains were placed in the National Pantheon in Caracas among the heroes of the nation. His published writings include Exposición sobre el patronato eclesiástico (Caracas 1830), Observaciones sobre el proyecto de constitución (Caracas 1830), and Reflexiones a sus diocesanos sobre varieo errores (Caracas 1832, 1834).
Bibliography: h. garcÍa chuecos, Estudios de historia colonial Venezolana, 2 v. (Caracas 1937–38). n. e. navarro, Anales eclesiásticos Venezolanos (2d ed. Caracas 1951). m. watters, A History of the Church in Venezuela (Chapel Hill 1933).
[p. p. barnola]