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Roman Catholic Church nullifies excommunication of priest and independence hero Miguel Hidalgo

The father of Mexico's independence movement did not die excommunicated nearly 200 years ago, clearing a stain from his legacy ahead of the 2010 bicentenial celebrations.

Roman Catholic investigators announced that the excommunication of priest and independence hero Miguel Hidalgo was annulled when he confessed his sins shortly before being shot by a Spanish firing squad.

Hidalgo, a Catholic priest, was expelled by the church on Sept. 24, 1810, nine days after he issued the first call for Mexicans to take up arms against the Spanish colonial government. Mexico commemorates his historic "grito," or cry of independence, each September with a national holiday.

However, priest Gustavo Watson said Wednesday that a special investigative commission found evidence that Hidalgo received confession from a fellow priest shortly before he was executed. Under church law, Watson said, his confession automatically voided the excommunication order.

"Hidalgo died within the church, reconciled with the church," Watson said.

Mexican legislators had asked Catholic officials to examine the cases of Hidalgo and another priest, Jose Maria Morelos, ahead of celebrations of the 200-year anniversary of the start of Mexico's war for independence.

Their excommunication has long been considered an insult to the memories of the two independence heroes.

Officials said they were still investigating Morelos' case, although they suspected he also confessed.

Many people have claimed Hidalgo was excommunicated in retaliation for calling for independence, but Watson said church documents show it was for violence against other priests.

Hidalgo's remains are interred in the so-called Angel of Independence monument in Mexico City's financial center.