Mexican cardinals found guilty of trying to influence federal elections

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ROSARIO, Argentina – Two Mexican cardinals were found guilty of “proselytism” during last June’s election, with a court claiming they “pressured and/or induced” their religious community to vote for a particular candidate or party.

The Superior Chamber of the Electoral Tribunal of the Judiciary of the Federation (TEPJF) of Mexico confirmed the sentence against Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes of Mexico City and Cardinal Juan Sandoval Iñiguez, the archbishop emeritus of Guadalajara. Two other priests were also found guilty.

They were found guilty of transgressing the “principle of Church-State separation” recognized in Mexico’s constitution.

They were charged after encouraging Catholics to vote in defense of life, family and the common good during the 2021 federal elections.

The president of the Superior Chamber said that “specifically” ministers of worship in Mexico “are prohibited from proselytizing for or against any political party, any candidacy or any political association, in order to safeguard the principles of the Mexican democratic system.”

The Mexican bishops’ conference (CEM) released a statement arguing that none of the accused expressed themselves specifically in favor or against a particular candidate or political party. Rather “- in exercising their freedom of expression – they made personal pronouncements on the social reality of the country.”

The CEM considers that in a modern democratic state, this type of restrictive resolutions of human rights are far from the parameters established in international treaties and conventions, the statement says.

However, the Bishops of Mexico “have full confidence” that the Ministry of the Interior will determine what is legal, just and in full respect of the rights of the ministers of worship and Mexican citizens.

“Likewise,” the communiqué states, “we are certain that the Government of the Republic, which has reiterated its commitment to democracy and the freedoms of the people, will know how to ponder that in the expressions of the ministers involved and in the position of the Catholic Church in Mexico, there is no violation of the principle of separation between Church and State.”

The weekly Catholic magazine Desde a fe also criticized the court’s ruling.

The two cardinals voiced “points of social improvement to be taken into account when the faithful were deciding their vote, in full exercise of freedom of expression and of the civic exercise to which they have the right,” the editorial said. 

“The Catholic Church is respectful of the dispositions of the civil power, since this exists with the purpose of preserving order and procuring the common good; however, on this occasion, it does not agree with the criteria manifested in its sentence by the TEPJF,” it continued.

The Church in Mexico has often clashed with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) and his leftist party, Morena. 

Last year, Church officials criticized “federal legislators of the party in government” because “they have persisted in promoting a very ideologically charged agenda.” Several prelates called on voters to take into consideration traditional family values, life issues and gender ideology when voting.

According to the TEPJF, this violated the principles of equity, secularism and separation of Church-State. 

The editorial in Desde la Fe argued that  “it is the Church’s task to bring the Gospel to all people.”

“In this sacred mission, everyone is exhorted to change their lives for the better, including all rulers and politicians, without making a difference based on party colors,” it said.

Sandoval Iñiguez is considered to be in a more precarious situation, since he was also found guilty of violating the electoral ban, because he reportedly spoke about politics after the campaign had ended on the eve of the June 6 election.

It is illegal to do electioneering immediately before election day in Mexico.

The sanction against Sandoval Iñiguez arises from his call, on June 1, 2021, for Catholics not to vote for those “who are in power” because “dictatorship is coming or freedom is lost because it is a communist, socialist system that enslaves.”

The prelate also said that during last year’s electoral process “the family, the good of the family and of life are at stake because this government has adopted the gender ideology.”

Aguiar Retes was sentenced for saying in June 2018, before the July 6 poll that year, that Catholics should consider whoever guarantees respect for “the fundamental values of our faith, such as the right to life, the right to a stable family, the right to education, the right to religious freedom.”

López Obrador won those elections. He has spoken in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage and abortion at a national level – they are currently only allowed in some states.

The video of the Aguiar Retes’s message, originally broadcast only to the clergy of the archdiocese in 2018, became viral during the 2021 electoral process.

Mexico has a long history of anti-clerical legislation. Its 1917 constitution severely restricted the Church, and even banned clergy from voting or wearing religious garb outside of their churches. In several states, Catholicism was effectively banned.

Although the extreme persecution softened in the mid-20th century, the Church still suffered from extreme disadvantages, including having no legal structure to own buildings, schools, or other property. Most of the anti-clerical provisions of the Mexican constitution were only removed in the early 1990s.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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