Mexico City church publication questions Pope Francis' rebuke of bishops

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By David Agren

Archdiocese of Mexico City publication questioned a rebuke from Pope Francis, in
which he criticized Mexico’s bishops for living like princes and resting on
their laurels and called on them to fight “as men, face-to-face” if
they do fight — an allusion to disunity in the episcopal conference.

An editorial March 5 in the
archdiocesan publication Desde la Fe wondered if the pope had been properly
briefed on Mexican matters prior to his Feb. 12-17 visit, saying the work of
the church had kept more than 80 percent of the population professing
Catholicism — among the highest levels in Latin America — even in the face of
evangelical missionaries, an officially secular state and times of church
persecution. It also insisted priests across the country were properly
responding to a population the pope told them to attend to better.

“Here it must be
questioned: Does the pope have some reason for scolding Mexican bishops?” asked
the editorial, which offered a staunch defense of the church hierarchy.

It ended with another question, “Will
it be that the improvised words of the Holy Father” — alluding to the
pope’s admonishment for the bishops to fight like men — “respond to bad
advice from someone close to him?”

“Who gave the pope bad

In a Feb. 13 speech to bishops
at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City, Pope Francis called on prelates
to denounce drug cartels, better attend to victims of violence and avoid
brokering backroom deals that lack transparency. After visiting a seminary the
next day in the city of Ecatepec, he signed the guestbook with a warning to
avoid becoming “clerics of the state.”

The pope’s speech came as Mexico’s
church fielded criticisms from Catholics involved in human rights issues that
the hierarchy was speaking out softly on issues such as crime and corruption
and seeking favor from the political class.

“While other institutions
have failed in the care and promotion of the common good, Mexican bishops have
been accompanying a suffering and downtrodden people, living a life of giving
to neighbors and not of princes without contact with the flock,” read the
editorial. “They themselves have assumed the practice of compassion,
strengthening the bonds of unity through prophetic pastoral signals, which,
thanks to the Catholic faith, have returned hope in each diocese of the

The editorial received
widespread attention in Mexico, where coverage of Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera is often negative and media erroneously interpret statements in
Desde la Fe as official statements from the Mexican bishops’ conference. Sociologist and
church observer Rodolfo Soriano Nunez says the editorial exposes lingering
displeasure of conservative Catholics — who are influential in the Archdiocese
of Mexico City — with the pope’s messages in Mexico and broader agenda.

“It confirms (Cardinal
Rivera’s) rejection of the pope’s reform … but also his unwillingness to
accept any kind of criticism,” Soriano said.

Father Hugo Valdemar Romero,
spokesman for the Archdiocese of Mexico City, said the editorial was written by
staff at the publication without input from Cardinal Rivera. Father Valdemar,
however, said it was an attempt to set the record straight on issues such as
unity among the bishops and church hierarchy’s attention to the faithful.

“There are not these kinds
of fights in the bishops’ conference,” he said, adding Cardinal Rivera has
had no conflicts with anyone in the conference and was not in opposition to
Pope Francis.

“It’s not a church that has
been distant from the people,” he added, pointing to census data showing
the Catholic population remaining above 80 percent as proof the bishops were
properly serving their dioceses.

Soriano said some in the church
selectively use census data, in which Mexicans self-identify religious
affiliation. He pointed to data showing a decline in the Catholic population of
Mexico City of nearly 10 percentage points from 1990 to 2010, faster than in
the country as a whole.

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Follow Agren on Twitter: @el_reportero.

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