Indian communities had abused their parishioners and that the regular orders were morally lax. Accusations of this sort were quite common throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but until this point the king had never taken official note of them. What seems to have changed the king's mind were the simultaneous reports, received from the viceroys ofboth Mexico and Peru, that portrayed the situation as a crisis. When the investigating committee concurred, the king acted. In October 1749, he issued an order requiring all regular clergy to transfer their parishes immediately to diocesan clergy and to close all rural priories - which were in any case illegal.

Representatives of the regulars immediately protested that the decree would be disastrous, since there would be no room in urban priories for the displaced friars and no way to support them. They also argued that the Indians would be ill servedbecauseofthelackof diocesan priests who knewthe Indian languages. The subsequent debate delayed implementation of the decree in order to take account of practical difficulties. But the measure was never withdrawn and the king's ministers added a further amendment in 1757 requiring the orders to cease accepting new novices until they had the resources to support them. Although the implementation process moved slowly and continued through the end of the colonial period, regular clergy now served in parishes at the convenience of bishops, not under the control of their own superiors, and their role in religious life among the indigenous communities outside of mission territories was severely circumscribed.

The rural communities themselves probably received the most damage from the measure. Bishops constantly complained about their inability to find enough priests to provide ordinary services for the vast majority of the population. The number ofpriests serving the most isolated areas declined and conditions for diocesan priests assigned to these poverty-stricken regions were abysmal because the communities could not support them. The low morale of the priests and the hostile relationship between the communities and their pastors frequently led to conflicts. On the other hand, there are indications that the number of priests from indigenous and mestizo backgrounds increased because of the desperate need for clergymen who knew the native languages.

Historians generally suggest that the orders themselves suffered from an inexorable decline after secularization. No doubt they did suffer from reduced revenues and a crisis of morale, since the loss of their parishes and priories pushed the regulars out of the rural areas with which they had been identified since the sixteenth century and in which they had powerful support. There is evidence that vocations declined as a result. Although figures are somewhat unreliable, the total number of religious priests may have fallen from

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