Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Mexico Friday to an enthusiastic welcome from crowds of Catholic faithful and government officials, evoking memories of Pope John Paul II’s many successful trips to the world’s largest Spanish-speaking country. However, the pontiff’s journey is also becoming the occasion of a carefully-planned attack by a victim of the late Fr. Marcial Maciel, who accuses Benedict, John Paul, and other high officials of the Church of failing to respond adequately to the accusations against the sexually-abusive priest.
Words of encouragement and peace
Benedict arrived in Mexico on Friday, touching down in the state of Guanajuato, the heart of Mexico’s strongly-Catholic Bajio region. He was received by President Felipe Calderon, and gave a brief speech thanking Mexicans for their legendary hospitality, reiterating the themes of faith, hope, and charity addressed by recent encyclicals, and promising to pray for the end of suffering caused by “old and new forms of rivalry, resentment, and violence.”
“I come as a pilgrim of faith, of hope, and of charity,” the pope told the crowd. “I desire to confirm the believers in Christ in their faith, consolidate them in it, and encourage them to revitalize it with the hearing of the Word of God, the sacraments, and the coherence of life. In this way, they will be able to share it with others, like missionaries among their brothers, and be a leaven in society, contributing to a respectful and peaceful coexistence, based in the incomparable dignity of every human person, created by God, and whom no power has the right to forget or despise.”
President Calderon responded with a discourse on challenges facing the country, and expressing confidence that the traditional values of the Mexican people would give them the strength to prevail. Among other issues, such as poverty and economic inequality, Calderon decried the “ruthless and naked violence” caused by “delinquents” and “organized crime.”
Noting that “in this, our country, 93 million of us Catholics live…we are the the country with the second highest number of Catholics in the world,” Calderon credited the Church with impregnating Mexico with “the most elevated sense of love of neighbor…” Following the exchange, the pope was then taken in a procession to Leon’s Colegio Miraflores in the popemobile, greeted by enthusiastic crowds whose ardor has been widely judged as equal to that afforded to his predecessor.
On Saturday the pontiff said mass privately in a chapel of the Colegio, where he had passed the night, and then proceeded to the city of Guanajuato, where he symbolically received the keys to the city from the governor and mayor of the city, and broke protocol by personally greeting members of the faithful who had come to see the event.
The Holy Father was then transported in the glass enclosure of the popemobile to a second meeting with President Calderon, this time at the famous House of Conde Rul in the storybook city of Guanajuato. Following the brief encounter, during which the president reportedly introduced him to several victims of violence, Benedict appeared on the balcony of the residence, where he was greeted by a cheering crowd of thousands in the Plaza of Peace below. He delivered an address to children, many of whom were assembled in an orchestra that serenaded the crowd with symphonic classics and traditional Mexican songs.
The pope said that children “occupy a very important place in the heart of the Pope” and that he held a particular concern for those who bear the weight of suffering, abandonment, violence, or hunger.”
“This place in which we find ourselves has a name that expresses the longing present in the heart of all peoples: ‘peace,’ a a gift that comes from above. ‘Peace be with you,” said Benedict, quoting the Gospel of John. “They are the words of the resurrected lord. We hear them in every mass, and today they resound again , with the hope that everyone will be transformed into a sower and messenger of that peace for which Christ gave up his life.”
“I want to raise my voice, inviting all to protect and care for children, so that their smile is never taken away, so that they can live in peace and look to the future with confidence.”
In addition to the massive showing by the faithful at the pope’s appearances, large numbers of Mexicans have contributed to the organization of the event, often without pay. According to CNN, organizers have had the assistance 84,000 volunteers, and federal and state authorities say that 13,000 government agents are providing security for the event.
Simultaneous press conference announces new book on Maciel scandal
The pope’s warm reception was temporarily overshadowed by coverage of a press conference held in Guanajuato on Saturday, in which a victim of the sex-abusing founder of Legionaries of Christ, the Mexican Marcial Maciel, announced his new book purporting to document that the Holy See was aware of Maciel’s conduct for decades, and did nothing.
The book, which was co-authored by an individual who claims to have left the priesthood in disgust over sex abuse scandals, was introduced to the media by one of the Spanish-speaking world’s most eminent journalists, Carmen Aristegui. “La Voluntud de No Saber” (“The will not to know”), by Jose Barba and Alberto Athie, contains over 200 distinct items from Vatican documents dating as early as 1944 on Maciel, who died in 2008 after being removed from public ministry by Pope Benedict.
“The idea is to demonstrate that the Vatican, that Cardinal Ratzinger, that the Church overwhelmingly knew about the case,” Barba said in a video presented at the press conference, according to Mexico’s El Economista magazine.
“With irrefutable and resounding documents, the book shows us that the Roman Curia not only knew about the pathologies of Maciel but tolerated and protected them,” said Bernardo Barranco, an expert on religions who wrote the forward to the book, at the same event.
Papal spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi discarded the book’s thesis. Regarding the issue of “if the popes were complicit in the problem, I must say ‘no,’ and that my knowledge of these popes, which I think is not a knowledge that less than the authors of the book, is that it isn’t true that they were complicit,” he told reporters at his own press conference the same day.
“To the contrary, the current pope, Pope Benedict, those of us who worked with him, we know that he is an ‘uncoverer’ because he has truly done much to go directly against these problems and put into process in the Church fundamental measures and remedies to confront them. In this sense I think it is fundamentally unjust to consider Pope Benedict as someone who has worked against the truth and transparency.”
Lombardi added that John Paul II’s beatification commission had examined the question of the pontiff’s knowledge of Maciel’s situation and had concluded that he did not know about the wayward priest’s “double life.”
Lombardi also dismissed complaints that the Holy Father had not met with priestly sex abuse victims in Mexico, noting that although the pope has acted to correct the problem, he does not meet with sexual abuse victims on every foreign trip. “It isn’t necessary that this happen on every trip, but it is rather a part of a program that the Church is carrying out in the country, but the statements, the attitude of the Church, the way that the pope is insisting on this, is throughout all of the Church, and applies to all of Mexico,” he told reporters.
“Anonymous” attacks via the internet
Although the book’s presentation failed to damper the enthusiasm of Pope Benedict’s large fan base among Mexicans, an attack of another type did manage to cause problems for the trip’s organizers: a denial-of-service attack against organizer websites launched by the criminal hacker group Anonymous, which has recently declared an anti-Catholic stance and attacked the Vatican’s own website earlier this month.
Ricardo Cruz, who runs visitapapal.com, one of the websites hit by Anonymous, told Catholic World News that two attacks shut down the site’s servers for several hours, but that functionality had been restored. “The first attack came immediately after the first transmission ended at seven o’clock (on Friday) and it it took us about half an hour to bring it back,” he said.
“Then around midnight the next attack came, and that one took us a little bit longer because we were already outside of the premises here, so we didn’t have any connection.”
“There were something like 14 or 15 servers attacking us,” he estimated, adding that although Anonymous apparently hacked into the system and left an identifying mark, it didn’t do any damage.
Note: This is the second of three reports on Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Mexico. The first, “The Pope and Mexico’s Spiritual Crisis”, ran on March 19th. The next will cover Sunday’s papal mass, Vespers, and the pope’s farewell to Mexico.