Who will rid us of this meddlesome priest?
It is probably an oversimplification to say (as I did in Gods, Gachupines and Gringos) that Pope John-Paul II’s anti-communism was the main reason why liberation theology, let alone the more progressive currents in the Catholic Church, have not prospered in Mexico.
Much of the credit or blame rests with Girolamo Prigione… originally appointed by Paul VI as Apostolic Delegate to Mexico (Mexico and the Vatican had no diplomatic relations at the time) whose crack-down on bishops and clerics sympathetic to liberation theology was a “bargaining chip” in Mexico’s loosening the restrictions on the Church, and the eventual diplomatic recognition of the Vatican. The quid pro quo for recognition being Church support for the Carlos Salinas administration.
Where John-Paul II went terribly wrong was in relying on the highly corrupt, pedophile and junkie, Marcial Maciel, for advise on Mexico. Although Maciel was of the generation after the Cristeros (although his uncle, Rafael Guízar y Valencia — the Bishop of Veracruz during the Cristero era — was canonized as a Saint) he was of the same militant stamp as the Cristeros, a throw-back in an era when the Church and State had learned to warily co-exist with neither seeking power over the other, but free to criticize each others’ positions.
Where John-Paul II (ironically, like Leon Trotsky) saw the Church as a possible ally of anti-totalitarianism in eastern Europe, the Pope’s narrow focus of anti-Marxism in Europe, made him the sworn enemy of liberation theology, due to its reliance on Marxist analysis of economics and social class. Prigione was willing to buy into support for the new neo-liberal administrations in return for legitimacy, which Maciel — unreconstructed Cristero that he was — sought to restore the Church to its primacy within the state, something lost long before: 1854.
With the unholy “trinity” of Televisa, the Salinas Administration, and — so it seems — the narcotics cartels … an ambitious, pro-government clique of clerics have dominated the Church in Mexico since the 1990s. The result has been a hierarchy no better than the political leadership… leading to one scandal after another — everything from covering up pedophile, to bribery and dubious self-enrichment, to assassinations (as with Cardinal Posadas in 1993)… and a Church hierarchy about as well-respected as our politicians.
Although Mexicans have never been church-goers in the numbers one assumes, it has been since the 90s that religous believers have been flocking to other denominations. My sense is that the reported percentage of Roman Catholics (86% in the last census… the first to list religious affliliation) is probably — like other official data — fudged. As it was, the clergy objected to listing so-called “heretical” movements like Santa Muerte, or break-away Catholic movements (like the Apostolic Church of Mexico) separately from those considered Roman Catholic. Even among the baptized and relatively faithful, church attendance is very low… especially in Mexico City.
The problem in the Capital, and in the country in general, is the Primate, Norberto Rivera. The Church has changed, and with a Latin American at the helm, who — although not a Liberationist – is open to accepting a new role for the church as an alternative to the state, not an adjunct to its power — the old guard, and Norberto Rivera are the odd men out.
When Pope Francis spoke to the hierarchy here, he all but named Rivera as the biggest impediment to Catholicism in Mexico. Francis’ statement that the Church required a community of the faithful, not princes, coupled with his very public snubs of Rivera, led the Archdiocesan official paper, Desde de Fe, to come out with an editorial attacking the Pope. Not the way to win friends, nor to influence Popes.
If Rivera was reluctantly tolerated in Rome before (although it is alleged he was denied a vote in the last Papal conclave), now he is persona non grata in the Vatican Stories of his protection of for pedophile priests and his apparent simony — taking money in return for ecclesiastical benefits, specifically First Lady Angelica Rivera’s annulment — have been leaking out as he nears his 75th birthday a year from now.
As Bernardo Barranco Villafán (the best known Latin American religion writer, and probably one of the top non-clerical experts on the Roman Catholic Church) writes in this week’s Progreso:
Since the controversial editorial in Desde la Fe refuting the Pope’s message in Mexico became an international scandal , Norberto Rivera has been side-lined and is on his way out. In June 2017 he is canonically required to submit his resignation, which will surely be accepted. He is a survivor of the so-called “Club of Rome” [the clerics fostered by ], whose members all fell into disrepute and most of whom have died. […] Their positions are anachronistic, dragging behind them serious allegations of pedophile priests cover-ups. Their accounts are in deficit, the average loss of the Catholics in Mexico City is twice the national average. […] The image of the cardinal, according to various surveys, is bad; he is perceived more as a political actor as a spiritual leader. Retirement and solitude are imminent, his only comfort an odd group of priests and courtiers and powerful millionaires friends like Carlos Slim and Olegario Vazquez Raña.
While Rivera will probably hang on another year, with the “princes” of whom Francis complained unlikely to change their ways dramatically, who follows is the question. As Barranco warns:
Worse, [Rivera’s impending] retirement has unleashed the urgent ambitions of prelates as predatory as he was in the nineties.
“Arquidiócesis de México se lanza contra el Papa Francisco: Demeritó a obispos”, Proceso, 7 March 2016
Barranca V., Bernardo. “El llamado Club de Roma y el ocaso del cardenal Rivera” Proceso, 17 April 2016
—————- . Bernardo Barranco Blog
Servitje, Lucila. “Quién 50: `Bernardo es un hombre de fe que su tarea primordial el interpelar´” Quién, 13 Novembeer 2014