Over the past decade, the state of the Mexican family – so long its strongest institution – has entered into the worst crisis of its history. The divorce rate in Mexico has skyrocketed, the country’s most eminent Catholic prelates have endorsed homosexual unions, and Catholic publications have begun to echo transgender and radical feminist ideology. During the same period, the country’s pro-life and pro-family movement has suffered massive setbacks, as the Supreme Court has imposed homosexual “marriage” on the states and has struck down state laws prohibiting the killing of the unborn.
The situation represents an almost perfect reversal in the battle to defend life and family in Mexico, a battle that was carried out for decades in a highly effective way by both clergy and laity, and successfully thwarted anti-family agendas in most Mexican states. Today, in contrast, the federal government is imposing the same policies everywhere, and is silencing critics of transgender ideology with court orders and fines. The second largest Catholic country in the world now appears to be succumbing to the “culture of death” so long condemned by Pope John Paul II.
The tide against pro-life and pro-family values seems to have definitively turned in 2016, following a visit to the country by Pope Francis and the issuance of the apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia. Although the Church and Mexican voters struck an historic blow against homosexual “marriage” early in the year, by the end of the year a new apostolic nuncio was condemning pro-family marches, the cardinal archbishop of Mexico City had apologized for criticizing the LGBT lifestyle, and the divorce rate had made its biggest jump in history. Since then, anti-family secularism has scored one victory after another in the country and shows no sign of stopping, while the Catholic hierarchy gives muted and ambiguous responses.
Mexico’s struggle to protect life and family
Since the 1970s, Mexico and other Latin American countries have been locked in a struggle with international organizations that have pushed to change their laws protecting the right to life and the integrity of the family, as well as suppressing population growth through artificial birth control. In Mexico, in particular, this struggle has been seen as a continuation of the fight of the “Cristeros” of the 1920s and 1930s against grooming sex education imposed by the Mexican government on the nation’s children, who were simultaneously denied a religious education during the period.
The five visits of Pope John Paul II to Mexico (in 1979, 1990, 1993, 1999 and 2002) and his many visits to other Latin American countries had a profound impact on the region’s battles over such issues. On those trips, the pontiff repeatedly and adamantly defended the right to life and the traditional family, and clearly condemned abortion, contraception, and divorce. Little headway was made by anti-family groups in Latin America during John Paul II’s pontificate.
Following the pope’s declining health and then death in 2005, anti-family organizations began to win localized victories in Mexico and the rest of the region, but resistance remained strong. Losses in the battle were initially confined to Mexico City, the most socially liberal jurisdiction in the country, where abortion-on-demand in the first trimester was legalized in in 2007.
Although the Supreme Court upheld Mexico City’s law as constitutional, most of the states resisted fiercely, and over the next ten years the majority of state legislatures amended their constitutions to protect the right to life from the moment of conception or fertilization. By 2017 the number of states had almost reached two thirds, which would have enabled the states to amend the federal constitution as well. Opponents of the law also obtained a ruling from the Supreme Court recognizing that the states could continue to prohibit abortion.
The next wave of attack also came through the Mexico City legislature, which approved the creation of homosexual “marriage” in 2009. Despite resistance from the presidential administration of Felipe Calderon, the Supreme Court in 2010 dictated that Mexico’s 31 states must accept such “marriages” and grant the corresponding legal privileges associated with them. The Supreme Court also approved homosexual adoptions for Mexico City, to the great consternation of the nation’s Catholic majority.
The fight, however, was not over; in the following years opposition to such unions would build in Mexico. As the internationally-funded LGBT lobby turned up the heat, so did the Catholic hierarchy in its denunciations of sexual immorality and its defense of marriage, with increasing success.
In response to the Supreme Court decisions, the archbishop of Guadalajara, Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, fired a shot across the bow by publicly accusing the judges of the court of having been bribed by anti-family international organizations and by Marcelo Ebrard, the mayor of Mexico City. Moreover, his representatives told the press that they had the proof should they need to produce it in court.
“Marcelo Ebrard, together with international organizations, bribed the officials of the Supreme Court. They received gifts. Therefore, I don’t doubt that [homosexual] adoptions are going to go the same way,” Sandoval told reporters in a press conference in August of 2010. “Who in his right mind is going to permit that children are going to be given in adoption to queers and lesbians?”
“This is an aberration, which obeys international interests that follow the Malthusian line of very economically powerful propagandists, who follow evil and are devoted to diminishing the population, especially in the Third World, because they say that we are using up the resources of the earth,” said Sandoval, adding that “they have launched a series of measures for several years such as contraception, abortion, free love, the perversion of children and adolescents, the morning after pill, express divorce and homosexual marriage, which of course is sterile.”
Ebrard and the socialist Party of the Democratic Revolution responded with threats to sue Sandoval for defamation. However, the cardinal stated through his representatives that he had evidence for his accusations, and would be willing to produce it in a court of law. Ebrard sued Sandoval but to no avail; in 2014 a judge gave a final ruling against Ebrard and ordered him to pay the equivalent of thousands of dollars in court costs. Sandoval had won decisively.
Ebrard also tried to silence the Cardinal Archbishop of Mexico City, Norberto Rivera Carrera, who denounced Mexico City’s homosexual “marriage” law as an “immoral legal reform,” and noted that the Catholic Church “cannot cease to call evil, evil.”
“Such immoral activity can never be the equivalent of the sexual expression of conjugal love, because it endangers the dignity and the rights of the family that constitute the common good of the society,” said Rivera. The mayor filed a complaint with the National Council to Prevent Discrimination. However, the cardinal defended his position as grounded in Catholic religious belief, and also won the case.
Cardinal Juan Sandoval Iniguez retired in 2011 and was replaced as Archbishop of Guadalajara by Cardinal Francisco Robles Ortega. Although Robles was less assertive and more distant from his flock than his predecessor, he continued to condemn attempts to approve homosexual unions with strong language. “There is no future for a society that bases its status as a society in a union between people of the same sex,” he said in 2013, adding that “A society that opts for homosexual families doesn’t have a future.”
Confusion sown by the synods of bishops of 2014 and 2015
Soon after the accession of Jorge Bergoglio to the papacy, the relatively strong position of Catholics and pro-family groups in Mexico began to suffer setbacks. The first were the international repercussions of Francis’ famous statement, “Who am I to judge?” made in reference to the “gay lobby” in the Vatican and to accusations made against his appointee to the leadership of the Vatican Bank, Msgr. Battista Ricca, a priest accused in the Italian media of numerous homosexual trysts.
In the following two years, Pope Francis held two synods of bishops, global meetings of the episcopate to discuss Catholic teaching on sexual ethics and the family. During the process, the invited prelates were free to endorse the “Kasper proposal” to give Holy Communion to those in adulterous and invalid second marriages, and the relatio post disceptationem of the 2014 Synod of Bishops advocated “welcoming” homosexuals and “valuing their sexual orientation,” claiming that “homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer Christians.” Such statements were widely publicized in Mexico and throughout Latin America.
As the position of the Catholic Church weakened on family issues, additional cracks appeared in the edifice of the traditional family in Mexico. In 2015 the Supreme Court issued a non-binding decree that restricting marriage to a man and a woman was unconstitutional. It did not invalidate state laws, but allowed individuals to appeal to federal courts to obtain a marriage license in their states. Only one state responded by altering its civil code; homosexual “marriage” remained illegal in the vast majority of Mexico’s 31 states.
In the same year, the Supreme Court also decreed that no-fault divorce was a constitutional right, another milestone in the decline of the institution of marriage in Mexico.
Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in 2016
However, the immense doctrinal capital of the pontificate of John Paul II had not yet been fully expended in Mexico. The Catholic hierarchy, under the leadership of Cardinal Norberto Rivera, continued to condemn anti-family policies with increasing vigor and urgency. Although Cardinal Juan Sandoval was now retired, his replacement, Cardinal Francisco Robles Ortega, continued to defend life and family values. Their efforts would come to a virtual halt in 2016 following interventions by Pope Francis, who visited Mexico in February as the battle over homosexual “marriage” was heating up.
In contrast to John Paul II, who had encouraged and supported the episcopate in its battle for life and family, Pope Francis publicly lectured the Mexican bishops following his arrival, implying that they were in corrupt alliances with the wealthy and powerful and out of touch with their flocks. During his visit, he appeared to place the apostolic nuncio between himself and Cardinal Norberto Rivera. An editorial subsequently published in the Mexico City archdiocesan newspaper, Desde la Fe, asked “Who has misinformed the pope?”
On the same trip Francis made it a point to present to the public a Mexican man living in an invalid second marriage with a woman who had been married previously in the Catholic Church. The man showed no remorse for his behavior, and proclaimed that “we are blessed because we have a marriage and a family where the center is God.” He received praise from Francis, who declared him “integrated into the life of the Church,” and gave him a long hug while sentimental music played from loudspeakers.
In addition, the pontiff showed support for condemned forms of “liberation theology” by visiting the grave of disgraced bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia, a radical ideologue who was famous for having ruined the Church in the state of Chiapas by promoting neo-Marxist ideology and religious syncretism with indigenous religions, as well as neglecting the sacraments.
In the month following his visit, Francis issued the papal encyclical Amoris laetitia, which many believed undermined or even reversed Pope John Paul II’s clear teachings against giving Holy Communion to those in adulterous second marriages. Francis confirmed this interpretation in September, when he endorsed the implementing guidelines issued by the bishops of the Buenos Aires Pastoral Region, a document he later published in the official Acts of the Apostolic See along with Francis’ endorsement in December of 2017.
The pope’s decrees and related statements on marriage were like an earthquake in Latin America, where they made repeated headlines throughout the region and where the sanctity of Catholic marriage was a fundamental element of the culture. By the end of the year, the divorce rate in Mexico had leapt noticeably, from about 124,000 divorces in 2015, to 140,000 divorces in 2016, an increase of 13% in a single year. In comparison to the declining marriage rate, it was even greater, jumping 18% in relation to every one hundred marriages. It has continued to climb rapidly in the years since.
In May, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto joined himself to the anti-family momentum by announcing an initiative to amend the constitution to enshrine same-sex “marriage” as a right. The move was seen as an attempt to counter another amendment that had already been proposed to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and it was denounced by the Mexican episcopate.
In response to the initiative, Mexicans began to organize the the National Front for the Family, a massive coalition of pro-life and pro-family groups, and counter-momentum began to build. The Archdiocese of Mexico City issued a string of articles in Desde la Fe condemning homosexual behavior and defending the traditional family. In June, Mexico’s pro-family movement achieved one of the greatest victories in its history, when the country held its mid-term elections and the president’s Institutional Revolutionary Party lost its majority hold over a majority of the state governorships for the first time in 89 years, falling from 65 to 46 percent. The loss was widely attributed to Peña Nieto’s support for a same-sex marriage amendment to the constitution, a fact that was publicly acknowledged by senators and other eminent figures from the president’s party.
In July, another pro-family victory was scored when the Supreme Court struck down an attempt to impose abortion-on-demand in all 31 states. In September, hundreds of thousands of pro-family protesters marched in dozens of major cities throughout Mexico, in a show of strength that illustrated the growing influence of the movement.
The archdiocesan newspaper Desde la Fe made repeated headlines by firmly rebuking and rejecting LGBT ideology, noting the dangers to children by pro-gay sex education and homosexual adoption, and even pointing out the physical damage done by homosexuals to their own bodies. The statements provoked outrage in the leftist Spanish-speaking press, led by Spain’s El Pais newspaper, which chronicled the “homophobic” declarations of Desde la Fe and blasted Cardinal Norberto Rivera.
Desde la Fe noted that where homosexual “marriage” has been instituted, “those who express disagreement face fines and jail terms. They’ve already jailed hotel owners who don’t admit homosexuals; bakers who refuse to decorate a gay wedding cake; parents who oppose their children being taught in school that homosexuality is natural.” It also observed that “innumerable scientific studies show that homosexuals are more likely to suffer from and transmit sexually transmitted diseases,” and warned that children “are more likely to suffer sexual abuse from a homosexual parent.”
Confronted with calls for apologies for these statements, the archdiocese responded by quoting Cardinal Norberto Rivera: “It’s only necessary to ask for forgiveness when one has committed an offense.” However, he would soon be made to eat those words.
Norberto Rivera warned Catholics in July that the integrity of marriage couldn’t be compromised, “even if we did it with the purpose of not offending people’s sensibilities so we can be fashionable.” In September Cardinal Francisco Robles, warned that with the imposition of gender ideology, “we are not talking about a secular state, we are talking about a state that tends to totalitarianism.”
The spokesman for the Archdiocese of Mexico City openly compared the situation to the Cristero War of the 1920s and 30s. “There hasn’t been a confrontation so strong between the government and the Church since the anticlerical laws of Plutarco Elías Calles were promulgated and since General Lázaro Cárdenas introduced socialist education,” said Fr. Hugo Valdemar in an interview. The proposed homosexual “marriage” amendment has caused “a cooling of [President Peña Nieto’s] relationship with the bishops, who are very troubled by his initiative,” said Valdemar.
Cardinal Norberto Rivera humiliated, forced to retract
In September, Francis made a brief statement supporting the Mexican bishops in their defense of “life and family”, but in October of 2016 he sent a new apostolic nuncio to the country who would engineer an almost perfect reversal in the Church’s struggle to prevent the implementation of LGBT ideology.
Archbishop Franco Coppola presented his credentials to the president in a public ceremony in which he referred to homosexuals as people “who are part of sexual diversity,” affirming that they had the same rights as others, and agreeing that homosexual “marriage” might become a “human right” in the future. “We’ll have to see,” he said in response to a reporter’s question about it.
Cardinal Norberto Rivera got the message, and acted quickly to withdraw from the conflict. A week after Coppola’s statements, the cardinal did an about-face, and made a public apology to homosexuals for offending them: “I again ask for forgiveness if I have used words that are inadequate, but I want you to know that in no way was it my intention to offend you.” The statement was understood as having been “forced upon the 74-year-old cardinal by the Vatican,” noted El Pais.
In November, the nuncio gave a press conference at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and expressed opposition to marches and other pro-family campaigning in the country. “Rather than confronting each other, making declarations or organizing marches, Mexicans should sit down at the table and talk,” Coppola said. “One should not address these topics with an ideological perspective but rather according to the concrete reality.”
“I don’t believe that it’s good for a country to have a confrontation, to go to battle, to check to see how many are in favor and how many against,” said Coppola, who added, “It’s a wonderful opportunity to practice dialogue. Exchanging insults or prejudices doesn’t help anything. We need mutual understanding.”
El Pais trumpeted the news to the world: “Vatican slaps down anti-gay movement led by Mexican bishops” stated its headline. The publication added that “Pope Francis has ordered a cessation of hostilities in Mexico. In a show of force, the Vatican’s representative in the country has publicly rejected support for rallies protesting against same-sex marriage planned by conservative sectors of the Catholic Church.”
From that moment, Cardinal Rivera’s highly-effective campaign against same-sex “marriage” and LGBT ideology came to an abrupt end. The fiery defense of Catholic sexual morality largely disappeared from Desde la Fe. Within a year, Rivera’s resignation had been accepted by Pope Francis, and the cardinal was replaced by Carlos Aguiar Retes, an ideological ally of Francis and a friend of Peña Nieto who was made a cardinal soon after Rivera’s apology. Within a few years, he would eagerly affirm Pope Francis’ endorsement of homosexual civil unions.
(Editor’s note: This is the first part of a two-part essay. Part 2 will be published next week.)
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