pope-notgood15Through the passage of time, history is often distorted or forgotten because of political necessities. As many of you know, the borderland is gearing up for a visit from the Pope. As many individuals tend to believe that Mexico is driven by Catholicism, I believe that this upcoming visit perpetuates the myth that Mexico is and has been a close Catholic ally. The fact is that until recently, 1992 to be exact, Mexico and the Vatican had no formal relationship in place. Benito Juarez, confiscated Catholic Church property and ordered the separation of church and state. As a result, the Vatican severed diplomatic relations with Mexico in the late 1800’s. Only one Mexico president visited the Holy See prior to Carlos Salinas de Gortari in 1991. Luis Echeverria visited in 1974. It was Salinas de Gortari (PRI) who made it possible for Mexico to reestablish diplomatic relations with the Vatican.

It is this history that is often obscured for political expediency.

Most any casual observer of Mexican politics will likely argue that the PRI is secular and anti-religious in opposition to the PAN party – that is generally perceived to support religion, specifically Catholicism in Mexico. However, as with anything in Mexico, the truth is often obscured in the smoke and mirrors that is the Mexican psyche.

Luis Echeverria, often associated as the behind the scenes manipulator of the “old-guard” PRI politics, was the first Mexican president to visit the Vatican. Echeverria was an unlikely Church reformer as he unilaterally led the country’s sexual revolution in the 1970’s by introducing contraception to Mexico. Mexico’s birth rate was crippling the Mexican economy. The PRI leadership understood this economic reality and successfully reduced the birthrate from seven births per woman in the 1970’s to about two today.

The PRI government equated a reduced birthrate to resolving crippling poverty rates while the Church opposed birth control measures being promoted by the government.

In February of 1974, Luis Echeverria visited the Vatican as president of Mexico.

Echeverria’s visit began to pierce the 120 year-old anti-clericalism Mexico had steadfastly maintained politically. Although a significant portion of the Mexican population was pro-Catholic, officially the government was hostile to the Holy See. Although, over 90% of the Mexican population proclaimed itself Catholic in official census data in the 70’s, the fact remains that Mexicans tend to express outwardly a different façade from that which they truly represent. Regardless, the 90% Catholic identity has consistently declined over the years. Today, about 80% of the Mexican population proclaims themselves Catholic. Accepting the notion that Mexicans are a smoke-and-mirror contradiction means that likely much less than 80% are truly faithful.

After Luis Echeverria, it wasn’t until 1991 when another Mexican president visited the Vatican. It was PRI president, Carlos Salinas de Gortari who was not only the second Mexican president to visit the Vatican but was the instrument that radically changed the Mexican political and constitutional doctrine that allows the Catholic Church to openly operate in Mexico today. There is a reason why Salinas de Gortari continues to live in Ireland today and it has everything to do with the Church protecting him.

Pope John Paul II visited Mexico in 1979, 1990, 1993, 1999 and 2002. Pope Benedict XVI visited in 2012. Pope Francis is expected in February 2016. One of expected stops is in Cd. Juarez which brings him to the borderland.
The upcoming visit to Mexico would not be possible were it not for a PRI president that radically changed the Mexican constitution. It was Carlos Salinas de Gortari that fundamentally opened the floodgates to the Vatican in Mexico. It was also Salinas de Gortari that fundamentally changed the economic future of Mexico by spearheading NAFTA and realigning Mexico’s economy away from an oil-based one to one global economics, the so-called neoliberalism economy.

The Vatican has never been good for Mexico. The Church believes that it has the authority to inject itself into the internal politics of Mexico. Until, Salinas de Gortari, although active in Mexican internal politics, the Church nonetheless was held at bay because of the anti-clerical laws. Those no longer exist, thanks to a PRI president.

Now the Church is unrestrained and has slowly began to flex its religious power over Mexican politics. Although many are celebrating the Pope’s visit, as with everything in Mexico, there is more to the story than the superficial Church ministering to the faithful.

Enrique Peña-Nieto (PRI) has embarked in making fundamental reforms in Mexico. They include reforms in education, and changes in the energy and telecommunications economic sectors. The Vatican has been targeting these reforms as ill-advised. The Church has taken the position that the reforms “pillage” the resources of the country.

Whether this is true or not is immaterial because in order to understand the issue it must be openly discussed and vetted through the eyes of the country away from religious doctrine. Yet, the Church refuses to allow this discussion as policy and instead looks to use its religious doctrine to impede the discussion.

That is what the most recent visit is about. It is not about nurturing the faithful, but rather interfering with public policy through doctrine. In the 1970’s the Church was vehemently against curtailing seven children per family because it went against Church doctrine. Education in contraception has made Mexico’s economy much more resilient for the betterment of the country. The use of contraception has been good for the country. Yet, the Church openly opposes it, even today.

Religion has a place in society. However, its place is not in interfering in the public policies of the country through subterfuge and a misguided doctrine. The Pope’s upcoming visit is to interfere with reforms that possibly could make Mexico stronger well into the future. Had we allowed Church doctrine to dictate contraception, Mexico might well be a much different place today.

As you look at the upcoming religious spectacle look closely at how the Church will attempt to usurp public policy through doctrine. No, the Catholic Church has never been good for Mexico and it is not about to start today.

Martin Paredes

Martín Paredes is a Mexican immigrant who built his business on the U.S.-Mexican border. As an immigrant, Martín brings the perspective of someone who sees México as a native through the experience...

6 replies on “The Pope is Visiting Mexico and It Is Not a Good Thing”

  1. Contraception is not the cause, it is the effect. Best form of birth control is educating women. Women who are educated are more likely to make family planning decisions in their interest, not necessarily the man’s interest. That coupled with the fact it took Mexico longer to industrialize – it was the PRI whose big idea was communal farming – and macho culture that also had a role of birth rates. But you’re always looking for the “other” to blame. Sure, the Church has made mistakes in Mexico, but hey, it was a Mexican priest who fanned the flames of independence, which was later hijacked by wealthy landowners.



  2. Great post. I’ve got to wonder how many poor people in Juarez will freeze in cardboard shacks this week, while construction companies are coming together to donate materials for the dais and seating area currently being constructed for the Pope’s visit. I agree completely with your point about contraception. There is much a church focused on policies that actually benefited the poor could do, but Catholic doctrine appears to value the poor more as photo ops than as a group they could help move up socioeconomically.

  3. As far as PRI “reforms”, that is the PRI undoing the mistakes it created in the first place that stunted Mexico’s growth for half a century.



  4. The thing you’ve got to understand is that the referent power of a priest in a poor, uneducated community is huge. If the priest says contraception is a sin, women who can’t afford extra kids will be having kids, who will be raised Catholic. If that same priest is preaching common sense, the dynamics change. But since educated folks are often less dependent on religion that behavior is discouraged.

  5. Anglocentric,

    In 20th Century, the PRI did more to harm Mexico’s economy than a Catholic priest. It is silly to suggest high birth rates ruined Mexico’s economy. High birth rates are an effect of largely agarian and impoverished society. China and India’s populations did not boom because of the Catholic Church. Or for that matter it is not because of the Catholic Church Bangladesh’s or Nigeria’s populations continue to have high birth rates.

    Let’s go one step further. The Mexican Revolution, not the Catholic Church, did more harm to Mexico. But just only Nixon could go to China, only the PRI can undo the Mexican Revolution.





  6. Holy crap! I’m gonna have to agree with Ali on most points, especially the one about the PRI creating most of the problems to begin with.

    No, Martin, Mexico doesn’t need intervention! It’s great, JUST the way it is, right?

    You seem to have a problem with Vatican intervention in Mexican politics, but no problem with Mexico intervening in say…US immigration policy.

    I expect more from you.

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