Mexican President Kisses Papal Ring, Breaking a Taboo

For Decades, Politicians Shied from Public Shows of Faith

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MEXICO CITY, JULY 31, 2002 ( When President Vicente Fox kissed John Paul II’s ring during Tuesday’s welcome ceremony, he broke a decades-old taboo in Mexican politics.

Newspapers splashed pictures of the event on their front pages today.

“Mexico Hands Itself to JP,” read a Page 1 headline in the Reforma newspaper. “Fox’s Kiss Has Impact,” El Universal commented in an eight-column article. La Jornada simply asked: “And the Lay State?”

For most of the 20th century, the Church in Mexico lacked all legal recognition. Priests were stripped of most of their civil rights. The situation was inherited from the Constitution as well as the 1920s laws which accompanied a bloody religious persecution.

The Church and other religious professions were not legally recognized until 1992, during Carlos Salinas de Gortari’s administration.

Until 2000, during the more than 70 years that the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was in power, Mexican presidents refused to make any public manifestation of their faith, considering it a violation of church-state separation.

Ernesto Zedillo, the last PRI president, broke some of the taboos when he attended the inauguration of the Cathedral of Ecatepec, near the capital, on March 25, 1999. He did not make a public expression of his faith, however.

Vicente Fox, who openly admits he is a Catholic, has broken with this tradition. After winning the elections of July 2000, he surprised the country when he knelt down before the image of the Blessed Virgin in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, before receiving the presidential sash the following Dec. 1.

This concept of church-state separation, typical of 19th-century Masonic groups, which impedes a politician from manifesting his faith, was criticized on the eve of the Pope’s visit to Mexico by Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, archbishop primate of the country.

The cardinal said on Sunday that Mexico does not yet enjoy full religious liberty. He cited the example of President Fox, who was to remove his investiture before attending Juan Diego’s canonization.

“It is not necessary to engage in juridical fabrications, because the president is president in and out of his home, in an out of the Church,” the cardinal said.

The archbishop primate said that legal changes were required to reinforce church-state relations, something the legislative branch must address.

Current laws deny the Church the right to express itself in the media, and to teach religion in schools.

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