Church in Mexico Deserves More Leeway, Says John Paul II

Insists That Laicism Shouldn’t Hinder Its Work in Education and Media

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 24, 2004 ( John Paul II called for a surmounting of false notions of laicism that hamper the Church’s work in Mexico in areas such as education, health care and the media.

The Pope today analyzed the progress and challenges in church-state relations in Mexico when he received the letters of credence of the country’s new ambassador to the Holy See, Javier Moctezuma Barragán. The envoy has been Mexican undersecretary for migration, population and religious affairs, for four years.

Mexico established diplomatic relations with the Holy See and granted juridical recognition to the Church in the country in 1992. It has more Catholics than any country except Brazil.

Until 1992, priests were largely deprived of their civil rights. The situation stemmed from the Constitution and laws promulgated at the end of the 1910s and early 1920s, which gave rise to fierce religious persecution.

In his address, John Paul II noted that the last 12 years have been characterized «by rapid and profound changes in the country’s political, social and economic framework.» On Dec. 1, 2000, Vicente Fox became the first Mexican president in seven decades who did not come from the ranks of the Institutional Revolutionary Party.

In this context, «the Catholic Church, faithful to its own pastoral mission, has continued to promote the common good of the Mexican people, seeking dialogue and understanding with the various public institutions and defending its right to participate in the national life,» the Pope said.

«Now, in the present legal framework, thanks to the new climate of respect and collaboration between the Church and state, progress has been made that has benefited all sides,» he added.

«However, it is necessary to continue working in favor of the principles of autonomy in the respective competencies, of mutual esteem and cooperation in view of the integral promotion of the human being,» the Holy Father said.

In this connection, John Paul II requested that the Church in Mexico «be able to enjoy full freedom in all areas where it carries out its pastoral and social mission,» a situation it enjoys in practically all other countries.

«The Church does not ask for privileges nor does it want to be in ambits that are not proper to it; rather, it desires to fulfill its mission in favor of the spiritual and human good of the Mexican people, free of obstacles or impediments,» he said.

The above requires that «the institutions of the state guarantee the right to religious freedom of persons and groups, avoiding every form of intolerance or discrimination,» the Pope said.

In particular, the Holy Father appealed for the right of the Church to greater space in areas «such as religious education in several environments, spiritual assistance in health, social re-adaptation, and care centers of the public sector, as well as a presence in the means of social communication.»

The Church as an institution is banned from several of these sectors in Mexico.

«One must not yield to the pretensions of those who, sheltered in an erroneous conception of the principle of church-state separation and of the secular character of the state, attempt to reduce religion to the merely private sphere of the individual,» the Pope cautioned.

John Paul II explained that the Church has the right to «teach its doctrine and to give moral judgments on issues that affect the social order, when called for by the fundamental rights of a person, or the spiritual good of the faithful.»

During last July’s electoral campaign in Mexico, several bishops were denounced to the authorities for expressing the moral view of the Church on questions of public life.

In this connection, the Holy Father noted «the courageous commitment of the bishops of the Church in Mexico in defense of life and of the family.»

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