A Cardinal points in a new direction
(translated from “El Papa nombra a un cardenal mexicano contra la radicalización de la Iglesia“, Elena Reina (El País [Madrid], 10 October 2016
The Vatican has sent a message to the Mexican Church and, in the process, provided a little oxygen to embattled president Enrique Peña Nieto. Pope Francis has made a Cardinal of Bishop Carlos Aguiar Retes, a key figure in the hierarchy, with not only a national reputation as an opponent of the ultraconservative Cardinal Norberto Rivera, who spearheaded the war against the government’s proposed constitutional endorsement of same-sex marriage. Aguilar Retes is one of 12 new cardinals who will be tasked with selecting the next pope. t
Everything points to Aguiar Retes succeeding Rivera, who will retire next year, as Primate of Mexico. But nothing is guaranteed. Presently, Archbishop of Tlalnepantla (Mexico State), Aguilar represents the opposite of the image of Mexico’s clerical leaders. Pope Francis is betting the discreet, prudent and sophisticated Aguilar will curb the elitist ultraconservative wing, which flaunts their access to power, their wealth, and their distance from the people. .
Although from a small suburban diocese, Aguilar has been an important religious actor in the country. He was president of both the Mexican and Latin American Episcopate. “When he was president of the episcopate his relations with Rivera were very bad. Rivera comes from a crudely triumphalist Church , which wants to aggressively influence public debate, resorting to strong statements and even blackmail. [Aguilar] Retes is more sophisticated in political terms, is not [he and Rivera] are so different ideologically, but that he is more audacious in the use of politics, “says Bernardo Barranco, the Mexican sociologist specializing in religious matters.
While this appointment involves Norberto Rivera’s direct succession, it is mainly a message from the Vatican to the local hierarchy. “The Pope is saying that he holds all the cards when it comes to replacing Rivera, who has proven to be unliked in the Mexican capital, controversial both politically and within the Church” Barranco adds.
During his visit to Mexico in February this year, Pope Francis made clear his dissatisfaction with such behavior of bishops. Francis openly critized Rivera in his own Mexico City Cathedral, saying “what are not needed princes “and that” if they must fight, fight as men, face-to-face!”. At the time, [Aguilar] Retes said of the Pope’s criticism: “It was not a scolding, but a motivation to work”.
Close to Enrique Peña Nieto, Aguilar Rete’s archdiocese is in the state of Mexico, governed for six years by the now President. As a then candidate, the Archbishop accompanied Peña Nieto to Rome when he presented his future wife, Angelica Rivera, to Pope Benedict XVI.
Despite not resembling the typical elite Mexican Catholic cleric, Aguilar Retes is also an aristocrat. “He is not known for his work as a pastor, but rather as a prince of the Church” qualifies Barranco. But his ability to reach agreements between political rivals, make him a key figure in de-radicalizing the Mexican Church.