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MEXICO: Fox and the Roman Catholic Church

One of the strange things about the Christian religion is that the mass has long been a focal point of dispute, indeed a cause or at least a pretext for wars, thus an item to be considered in Scotty McLennan's session on religion at the WAIS conference. The argument centered on two points: transsubstantiation, i.e. the dogma that the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ ("ave, verum corpus"), and the two species, the bread and wine. Was the wine reserved for the priests or could the faithful drink it too?

The mass became the touchstone (look up that interesting word). Catholics insisted on it. Henry of Navarre, born a Protestant, cynically converted to Catholicism to become Henry IV of France, saying "Paris is well worth a mass". In some Protestant countries, such as England, it was banned and celebrated secretly by priests. In Catholic countries only the priest gets to drink the wine. In England and elsewhere a compromise was reached by which the faithful communicate in both species. The whole argument seems quaint to me, like the argument about circumcision among Jews; strangely some Reform rabbis are now insisting on it again.

This brings us back to Mexico, where before TV cameras Fox stuck his tongue out and a priest placed the wafer on it. For Mexicans, the symbolism of this was enormous. Mexican expert George Greyson send us this from Mexico:

"I am in Mexico, and Cardinal Norberto Rivera, who is "papabile," said--I believe--that neither Vicente Fox nor Marta Sahagun would be excommunicated, but that they could not take communion. Of course, this is an inconsistency. Incidentally, upon receiving Mexico's new ambassador to the Holy See in mid-May, Pope John Paul II openly criticized the Fox administration's tax reform, which includes extending the Value Added Tax (IVA), to food and certain medicines. What His Holiness failed to mention was that the wealthiest one-fifth of Mexicans receive 42% of the benefits from the IVA exemption for food and medicine, and that the legislation contains provisions to offset the burden of the change on the poor. In addition, Fox is proposing an earned income tax credit to help low income workers. Believe me, I am no apologist for the Fox regime, but the president got a bum rap from Rome."

My comment: When I saw Rivera on TV, he definitely said that Fox could take mass, but he probably made other statements saying the contrary. Fox sticks his tongue out and the Church is tongue-tied. Accompanied by a delegate from Rome, the nuncio visited Fox in his official residence. The official reason for this private conversation was that they came to discuss the possible (but improbable) visit of the Pope to Mexico after his forthcoming visit to Canada. Publicly, Fox stuck out his tongue again, saying that he and his bride (both divorcees) were going to Guanajuato, where they would receive mass.

In Rome the Mexican press, the papal spokesman, Spaniard Joaquín Navarro Valls was asked about the official position of the Church; he replied that the question had not come up. He would probably justify this gross evasion by saying there had been no official discussions on the subject. It sounds as though the Vatican will not take an official position. This is most important, since divorce is a hot subject in many Catholic countries. In Chile, divorce has just been made legal, resulting in an embarrassing tension between church and state.

Ronald Hilton - 7/5/01