The Roman Catholic Church in Mexico earlier this year took the unusual step of issuing guidelines on how Mexicans should vote in the coming presidential election: Candidates should value marriage as a bond between a man and a woman and should place prime importance on “the right to life, starting at conception.”
Both ideas were clearly aimed at leftist politicians and others who have backed same-sex marriage and abortion, legalized in recent years in Mexico City.
Pope Benedict XVI arrives Friday to a Mexico that, officially, is a strictly secular nation. And although the Catholic Church has almost always enjoyed a powerful position, it has taken on a particularly activist role in partisan politics during the past decade.
Benedictâ€™s visit is designed in part to give a boost to the church and its shifting role. He is coming here to the central Bajio region, which is the most conservatively Catholic part of Mexico. He is avoiding leftist-ruled Mexico City because of the altitude, Vatican officials say.
The pope will meet with President Felipe Calderon, whose right-wing, pro-Catholic National Action Party, or PAN, has ruled for the past 12 years. Under PAN, the church has steadily inserted itself in public policy, experts and longtime church observers say.
With church encouragement, 19 of Mexicoâ€™s 31 states have passed laws that either declare life to exist at conception, bestow rights on fetuses or otherwise criminalize abortion. In a number of cases, women who had abortions, or simply miscarried, have been jailed â€” including 160 women in the Guanajuato state, where Leon is located.
Senior bishops, among them Cardinal Juan Sandoval Iniguez, lashed out at Mexico Cityâ€™s mayor and other leftist politicians when the capital approved gay marriage, and they accused Supreme Court justices who backed the measure of accepting bribes to do so. [More]