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New Cardinals line-up includes two from borderlands

18 October 2007

In naming a Cardinal for Houston-Galveston Texas and Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, the Vatican seems to be placing an unusual emphasis on the borderlands. By elevating the Archbishop of Houston-Galveston in the United States and a representative of the “church of the poor” in Mexico, the Church may be shifting away from its traditional reactive role in the region, and taking on a new proactive one.

In response to the tremendous growth of the south and southwest, Houston-Galveston was only made an archdiocese recently. Archbishop Daniel Dinardo, who came from Sioux City Iowa (“Where I had the pleasure of shepherding almost 15,000 square miles of corn fields and that included 100,00 wonderful Catholics) to Houston only last year. The Houston-Galveston Archdiocese had about 1.3 million Catholics, with much of the recent growth coming from Mexican, Central American and African immigration. By naming Dinardo a Cardinal, observers believe the Papacy is recognizing the importance of the region to the Church as a whole.

Dinardo has issued pro-immigrant statements , but is not known as a progressive. Francisco Robles Ortega, the new Cardinal of Monterrey, is.

Dudley Althaus of the Houston Chronicle writes:

With Robles, the Vatican may aim to moderate the more conservative tendencies of the Mexican church, a leading analyst said.

“He is tied more to progressive sectors,” said anthropologist Elio Masferrer, an authority on the Mexican Catholic church.

… Mexico’s two other active cardinals — Norberto Rivera of Mexico City and Juan Sandoval of Guadalajara — are considered social conservatives.

Masferrer said Rivera is a cardinal with a “preference for the rich” and Sandoval is allied with the more traditional and conservative Catholicism.

As senior prelate in Monterrey, Mexico’s business capital, Robles presides over some of Mexico’s wealthiest and more conservative Roman Catholic clans.

Many of the city’s elite lobbied the Vatican for a more conservative bishop before Robles was appointed there nearly five years ago, Masferrer said.

A glance at his recent sermons suggests that Robles might give the rich a reason for indigestion.

“Ill-gotten and ill-used riches close our heart,” Robles said in a homily two Sundays ago. “We can pass our lives without even realizing the existence of the poor, the needy, the people who require our help.”

Antonio Argüello y Adriana Esthela Flores (Milenio) focus on Robles Ortega’s probable importance as a counterweight to the other two Mexican cardinals, especially Mexico City’s Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carerra. The same day as the Vatican announcement, a California court ruled that Rivera could not be forced to testify in that state’s courtrooms about his alleged role in protecting a pedophiliac priest who fled to Mexico and was the subject of a separate lawsuit in Mexican courts.

They also note that Robles Ortega is favorable to cooperation with other churches and supports a role for missionaries within Mexico. The latter is fairly controversial, Mexico having until recently forbidden foreign clerics to practice in the country. While there are only about 14,000 priests in Mexico, as in other countries, the priesthood is aging. New priests have tended to come from the ultra-reactionary Opus Dei or Legionarios de Cristo. Missionaries might not be such a bad thing under the circumstances.

An interesting sidelight is that Saltillo, is the seat of Bishop Raul Vega, a Liberation Theologian transferred from Chiapas at the request of conservatives in his former diocese. In Saltillo, Bishop Raul – whom among other innovations, has organized special parishes for gays, convicts and immigrants passing through to the United States – has been a behind-the-scenes player in Coahuila’s surprising emergence as one of the most progressive states in the Mexican Republic.

The importance of these two Cardinals lays in their relative youth (both are in the 50s). Only cardinals under 80 can vote for a new pope. Benedict XVI, a German and a conservative, is 80 now, and these new Cardinals will presumably select his successor. Even before the election of the Pole, John-Paul II, there has long been speculation that Latin Americans would come to dominate the Papacy.

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