As a young priest, Padre Martinez objected to tithing that he perceived as a severe burden on the poor. Since 1829–only three years after he arrived back in Taos as the priest in charge–he publicly voiced his opinion. As a civil legislator for the Departamento de Nuevo Mexico in the still new Republic of Mexico, independent from Spain since 1821, Padre Martinez advocated abolishing the system of tithing. In a union of church and state–for centuries, the norm in Europe and by extension in early Hispanic America–the government was in charge of collecting tithes as income to pay government expenses as well as church expenses including the salary of clergy. As early as 1829, without objection from his Bishop José Laureano Zubiría of the Diocese of Durango, Padre Martínez successfully advocated for a change in the policy. Durango Diocese extended to Taos, to the whole northern frontier of the Kingdom of Spain that included all of New Mexico and beyond. Tithes were fully abolished by the mid 1830s, but by 1853, Bishop Jean Baptiste Lamy, the first Bishop of New Mexico after it became part of the United States,revived the policy of tithing.
Wtit the the American occupation of Santa Fe, New Mexico became a Territory of the United States in 1846. It new ecclesiastical jurisdiction under the diocese of St. Louis began in July 1851 when the new Vicar Apostolic Bishop Lamy arrived at Santa Fe from Ohio where he had been a missionary priest. Padre Martinez joined the other native New Mexican clergy, Spanish Franciscans and laypeople in welcoming Lamy destined to soon become the first bishop of Santa Fe. Padre Martinez made overtures to ingratiate himself with the new prelate. For his part, Bishop Lamy initially sought advice from the Padre known for expertise in canon law, and even borrowed money from Padre Martínez who had come from a relatively wealthy family.
In his attempt to finance the operation of the still-new diocese, Bishop Lamy promulgated a new policy about tithing in a Pastoral Letter of the early 1850s . He imposed the penalty of denying Christian burial to families that did not comply with contributing tithes .
After serving in his beloved Taos for three decades as a busy parish priest, politician, printer and publisher, Padre Martinez was getting elderly, tired and sickly. He was thinking of possible retirement, and shared his musings with the Bishop. As a young man in Durango about to be ordained a priest, Martínez suffered from a breathing condition (asthma?) that impeded his health, but he recovered upon returning to Taos. As a mature man in later years, he suffered other maladies. In a letter written at the beginning of January 1856 , Padre Martinez advised Bishop Lamy of his ill health that included bladder infection and severe rheumatism that made walking difficult. Martínez requested help, preferably a native New Mexican priest as an assistant, and specifically asked for Don Ramón Medina whom he had trained in his preparatory seminary. Padre Martinez suggested that Padre Medina could ultimately replace him as pastor. Bishop Lamy chose to interpret the letter as a “resignation,” and accepted it as such. The Bishop appointed a new priest to succeed Padre Martínez as pastor of Taos, and the change became effective within three months by May 1856.
Bishop Lamy had met Don Dámaso Taladrid, a Basque priest and ex-military chaplain, during one of his trips to Rome, and invited him to the diocese of Santa Fe, and appointed him to succeed Padre Martínez in Taos. Father Taladrid had little regard for the health situation of Padre Martinez or for his thirty years at the parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Furthermore, Father Taladrid made it difficult for Padre Martinez to celebrate Mass at the parish, and even refused him permission to preside at the wedding of a favorite niece that was about to take place. The two priests clashed.
Father Taladrid newly in charge of Guadalupe Parish in Taos was being disrespectful to Padre Martínez as pastor emeritus. Taladrid made derogatory comments against Martínez, and made it difficult for Martínez to say Mass in the parish church. To avoid these difficulties Padre Martínez since the summer of 1856 had been building a private oratory with its walled cemetery on his property and at his own expense. By the fall,in a letter to Bishop Lamy –dated October 1 — PadreMartínez complained about Father Taladrid’s untoward behavior. At the same time,Martínez formally informed the Bishop of his new private chapel. However since June, Father Taladrid had already reported to Bishop Lamy that Martínez was building a private oratory on his own property.
During this time, the public controversy over Bishop Lamy’s Pastoral Letter that mandated tithes was heating up. When Bishop Lamy re-introduced the policy of tithing in order to meet new expenses, he imposed exclusion from the rites of Christian burial for the deceased of those families who could not comply. Padre Martínez, through his public writings in the newspaper La Gaceta of Santa Fe, strenuously and publicly objected to this change in policy.
For his “scandalous writings,” Bishop Lamy suspended Padre Martinez in October 1856. Suspensio a divinis is the ecclesiastical censure by which a cleric, for a breach of discipline or for moral turupitude, is prohibited from exercising “the divine things” of priestly ministry. The bishop deprived the suspended priest from his faculties (license) to celebrate Mass, preach, or hear Confessions with Absolution except in danger of death. In such cases, through the mercy of God, “ecclesia supplet,” the church supplies faculties and jurisdiction for a suspended or excommunicated priest to administer to a dying person the last rites of penance-absolution and anointing with the Holy Oils, and to give Holy Communion, called Viaticum when a Catholic is in either danger of death or already at the point of death .
The ultimate ecclesiastical censure of excommunication took place two years later shortly after Easter in the spring 1858. It is worth noting that church censures imposed on Padre Martinez were not for moral failings, but specifically for his “scandalous writings” as noted in church records of the Taos parish. It remains my hope that such penalties be posthumously overturned as was done for Galileo, Joan of Arc, and John Hus.