Last Saturday’s participation of a total of 11 Catholic bishops in demonstrations against a bill in Congress proposed by President Enrique Peña Nieto to legalize same-sex marriage has spurred the ancient war of priestly participation in politics in Mexico.
If you’re familiar with constitutional Mexican history then you’re familiar with the fundamentals of Catholic control of the government.
Now that Independence Day celebrations are here, it is surely a good time to recall that the 1810 War of Independence was led by priest Miguel Hidalgo and his first banner, for lack of a better word, was the powerful image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. In his September 16 march from Dolores to San Miguel El Grande (now de Allende) in the state of Guanajuato, Hidalgo, leading 5,000 men of an indigenous ragtag army, picked up the Guadalupe banner at the Atotonilco Parish before entering San Miguel.
Then in his “Thoughts of Nation,” also priest and founding father José María Morelos y Pavón included that the nation must always remain a bastion of Catholicism.
In fact, in the first Constitution drafted by the first president of Mexico, Guadalupe Victoria (a made up name for José Miguel Ramón Adaucto Fernández y Félix and a great marketing success in its day — it sold, as it held the two magic words: Guadalupe for the virgin and Victoria for the victory of the republic over the king of Spain) designed Catholicism as the exclusive religion of the nation. This gave the church the right to collect tithe and also made the Church the nation’s banker and nuns, and priests turned into loan sharks.
This lasted from 1824 until 1859 when Benito Juárez declared the separation of church and state, did away with the right of the Catholic Church to collect tithe and gave the federal government the responsibility of running the registrar of births and deaths, which was in the hands of the priests.
Throughout history, in reality the Catholic Church never lost its great influence and power over the faithful, but its ambitions of being the true government of and by God — and not that of a bunch of godless laymen — became mission impossible, but not implausible.
Back in 1923, the bishops pulled funds together to establish a giant statue of Christ right in the center of Mexico on a hill named El Cubilete in order to make it a point that Christ was in the heart of Mexico between the cities of Guanajuato and León. It was a costly structure, but it still stands there today.
From the moment the “Christ of El Cubilete” was erected, the bishops began an anti-government campaign which eventually led to the 1926-1929 bloody “Cristera” war that left a toll of a quarter of a million Mexicans dead.
For decades until the early 1990s, priests were fined by the Interior Secretariat’s Religious Affairs Office if they strolled down the streets wearing frocks.
And this is just the point of concern in 2016 as the bishops — escorted by monks and priests — took to the streets Saturday to protest against what they call the “pro-gay” bill which they don’t even want to reach the floor of Congress for debate.
Their presence in the anti-bill marches — they make it clear that they have the right to protest as citizens and not as representatives of The Vatican in Mexico — is “against a bill, not against a law because a law does not exist nowadays,” said Metropolitan Miter spokesman Hugo Valdemar.
But several representatives from the now politically ailing Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) see confronting the Catholic Church promoted demonstrations as an opportunity to revive themselves, claiming that the marching bishops “promote hatred” against peaceful Mexicans only because they are gay.
On the other hand, publication “From the Faith,” edited by priest Valdemar and financed by the Vatican’s top representative in Mexico, Cardinal Norberto Rivera, – as well as all the dioceses – claim exactly the same thing against the bill’s proponents, and that includes President Enrique Peña Nieto.
The question that remains unanswered is whether the nation is confronting yet another Catholic rebellion to fulfill the Vatican’s eternal dream of controlling the Mexican government from Rome, or just a group of Catholics who truly believe that same-sex marriage goes against the Old and New Testaments and by deed against the word of God, as they claim.
The bill presented by Peña Nieto to Congress reasserts an individual’s freedom of choice to do with his own life, within existing laws, as she or he pleases.
The protesting bishops claim to protect “family values” while the backers of the bill, both gay and straight, claim that “family is what one makes of relations” and not a dictate from God, much the less from a bunch of Catholic celibates who don’t even know what sex means.
In any case, this is a developing legal controversy which will only be settled when the same-sex marriage bill is voted on.
In the meantime, whatever Cardinal Rivera and his bishops do will come under suspicion as playing politics under a different name.