Back to Index

The future of the Catholic Church - Mexico

The Catholic Church is in a crisis, of which the Pope's frailty may be a symbol. Even that most Catholic country, Poland, has been hit by a clerical sex offense, and anti-clericalism is growing. Ireland and French Canada, long Catholic strongholds, are affected. A surprising phenomenon in "Catholic" countries like Spain, France and Italy has been the strength of anti-clericalism, which seems to have been declining, or melting into indifference, as the power of the Church has declined. Sex has long been a problem in the Catholic Church, and it would be enlightening to have a serious study of the sex habits of the clergy generally. In Spanish there is a peculiar word, "barragan, -ana". Corominas devotes three columns to the proposed etymologies of this word, meaning young man (archaic), and in the feminine form "barragana", the mistress of a priest. She would usually be passed off as a cook or housekeeper. It is odd that in the present outcry over clerical pedophilia, there is no mention of this. One explanation may be that, since it is between consenting adults, there is no basis for the civil law action without which the present scandal would have been hushed. I would like to know if the word or institution of barragana is common in Latin America.

One US development, especially marked in California, is that the Catholic Church, once predominantly European, is being taken over by Latin Americans, especially Mexicans. with a corresponding outflow of the European once-faithful. The Catholic Church welcomes the newcomers, even the illegal immigrants. This is in the spirit of liberation theology, but it takes the Church outside the law. In Mexican American TV programs, illegal immigrants are treated as victims of US tyranny. There is seldom any mention of the fact that, however much pity we may feel for the illegal immigrants, they are breaking the law and putting those Mexicans who seek legal admission to the US at a disadvantage. This Holy Week, the Catholic Church has distorted the meaning of the Crucifixion. Large number of illegal immigrants have been given little white crosses, while priests proclaim that they are suffering as Christ did. It is sacrilegious to compare illegal immigrants with Christ, who nevertheless, like us, would have felt pity for them.

All this is happening in the area of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which has been described as a rogue court because it stands way to the left of the other courts. In California the use of police in immigration control is strictly limited, making illegal immigration much easier; this is hailed as a victory by Mexican American organizations. In Florida, where the Cuhan exiles are mostly conservative, the opposite is true, and the police are active in immigration control. Demonstrating approvingly, some of these Cubans carry images of the Virgin, presumably del Cobre, the patroness of Cuba, while the Virgin of Guadalupe appears everywhere among Mexican Americans. It is hard to persuade some Latin Americans that these various representations are images of one Virgin Mary. Now we have two Virgins at opposite ends of the political spectrum.

Ronald Hilton - 3/30/02