Mexican Bishops' Visit Puts Church-State Question in Focus

Religious Freedom Still a Key Concern

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ROME, AUG. 30, 2005 ( The Mexican bishops’ five-yearly visit to the Holy See, now under way, brings up again «the difficult history of relations between Church and state» in their country, says Vatican Radio.

The papal broadcasting station today analyzed the challenges facing the country that has a history of «more than a century of dramas, persecutions and martyrs.»

Church-state relations have been complicated since 1821, when Mexico achieved independence from Spain. «It was supported by Catholics and non-Catholics, but the liberal revolutionaries tried in every possible way to remove the country from the Catholic Church’s influence,» Vatican Radio said during its international news program.

It added: «The break was made formal and insuperable in 1917, when Mexico adopted a constitution that gave origin to a series of abuses: women religious, priests and seminarians were deprived of their civil rights, and the freedom of education and of the press granted to Catholics was eliminated.»

Reaction to these impositions took place in 1926, when young workers and students organized a coalition revolt.


Thus arose the so-called Cristeros war, which led Pope Pius XI to denounce the ordeal of Mexican Catholics in the encyclical «Iniquis Afflictisque,» recalled Vatican Radio.

«Three years later, the government and the Holy See came to an agreement, but meanwhile thousands of dead had fallen, also among followers of the Church, obliged to live solely from the benevolence of the authorities, but without legal guarantees,» added the report.

The situation evolved shortly after the election to the papacy of John Paul II, who visited Mexico in his first foreign trip, to attend the general conference of the Latin American bishops’ council, held in Puebla.

«For the Church in Mexico,» said Vatican Radio, «after decades of suffering, the time had arrived to make her voice heard on the social problems of the nation weighed down by a grave economic and financial crisis.»

The great change came in 1991 with the reform of the Mexican Constitution that led to the recognition of the rights denied to the Church for more than a century. At the same time, Mexico and the Holy See re-established diplomatic relations.

Underlying poverty

«Greater freedom of action, despite some restrictions, has allowed and allows the Church in Mexico today to be committed above all in those areas of social and individual poverty which are the characteristic product of countries that need to harmonize development with a grave underlying poverty,» affirmed Vatican Radio.

On Aug. 10 the Mexican bishops’ conference published a communiqué entitled «For Genuine Religious Freedom in Mexico,» which warned: «[A] state that desires to be really democratic cannot do without full respect of religious freedom for its citizens.»

In Mexico, «freedom of worship is recognized but with clear and marked privations,» stated the document. In particular, it lamented the lack of «freedom of diffusion of creeds, ideas and religious opinions,» as the Church does not have access to certain media.

The text also lamented the lack of the «right to formation, education and religious association,» and to «conscientious objection.»

Among the challenges facing the Church in Mexico, Vatican Radio mentioned the «crisis of the family, of the world of youth, and immigration,» the «decline in vocations,» the «intense proselytism of religious sects» and drug trafficking.

Catholics comprise 90% of Mexico’s population of 106 million.

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