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MEXICO: The Church, Sin and Violence



Sin is an old-fashioned word, so let's say crime. From the Protestant view, a weakness of Catholicism is its stress on miracles, beseeching the Virgin to grant a request, rather than fighting sin. This brings us back to the Virgin of Guadalupe and Juan Diego. The Pope has been desanctifying saints of dubious authenticity, including even St. George, but Mexicans were outraged by the idea that the Virgin of Guadalupe, the symbol of Mexican nationalism (just as St, George was for England and Catalonia) was a fiction. Juan Diego is the symbol of the Mexican peasants, and their piety might be shattered and the Church thereby weakened. Mexican sources kept repeating that the Pope was about to proclaim Juan Diego a saint.

The Church does fight sin and crime. It was embarrassed by the story that the area in front of the shrine was a center of prostitution and drug-dealing. The rector of the Basilica, Antonio Macedo, vowed to fight them. However, the most publicized case was the fire which swept a huge nightclub, the Momohombo, which was virtually a center of devil-worship, prostitution and drug dealing, protected by politicians who had been bribed by the mafia. Just before the tragedy, masses of people were pushing to get in, a sad parody of the peasant masses streaming into the shrine of Gualalupe. This is progress! The ruined hulk of the nightclub and the bodies of those who perished there were a monument to the vanity of modern hedonism. The owners and the patrons deserved no sympathy, but one pitied the poor waiters who were killed in the fire. "Hispanidad" is a conservative term used to exalt the tradition of Catholic Spain. It was really blasphemy when Mexican nightclub owners advertised that they were celebrating the "Month of La Hispanidad" with entertainment worthy of Momohombo.

More politically significant were the interviews given by former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1998-1994), who returned to Mexico briefly from self-imposed exile to promote his 1,380-page book defending his administration against charges of corruption. He blamed his brother Raúl, who has been in jail for five months on a murder conviction and charged if stealing millions in public funds and stashing them away in Switzerland and elsewhere. Carlos said he did not know what his brother was doing, a claim which angered Raúl. Carlos also blamed President Ernesto Zedillo, his former protégé, for the 1994 economic collapse early in his administration, whereas it was commonly attributed to the policies of Carlos himself

The squabble between Carlos and Raúl was complicated by the involvement of their sister Adriana, who visited Raúl in jail and got into a shouting match with him. Someone (who?) recorded it, and the recording was played repeatedly on television. The outcome was that only a small percentage of Mexicans believed the ex-President, whose book was a flop. However, the outtrage it caused might boost sales.

Cuautémoc Cárdenas, who claimed he was cheated of victory in the 1988 elections, said he would sue Salinas for accusations of corruption. President-elect Vicente Fox behaved with dignity. His call for the eradication of official corruption hit a popular note. The Church, which backs him, issued calls for an end to corruption. Vicente Fox spoke at the Jesuit Universidad Iberoamericana The activist students of the national university should have welcomed a new broom, but they did not. They are essentially anarchists. When the university council met in the old School of Medicine, a historic building in the old city, they staged a wild ceremony outside. Dressed in the hoods of the Inquisition, they burned Fox in effigy and then tried to smash the School´s big oak doors, themselves 18th-century monuments.

The university city itself remained a scene of desolation and crime. Kidnappings have become commonplace in Mexico City. Two policemen trying to present the kidnapping of a woman just outside the administration building were shot. Universities are supposed to prepare the elite which will guide a country through the coming decades. It is clear that the National University of Mexico, like many others, is not meeting that challenge, The 1930 book of José Ortega y Gasset, The Mission of the University, should be required reading for all Mexican university students.

Ronald Hilton - 10/23/00


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