ROME — Less than a week before the arrival of Pope Francis in Mexico, local journalists have charged that Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s 2010 wedding to soap opera star Angélica Rivera was possible only because leading Church figures lied to help annul her previous marriage.
The charge comes from journalist Carmen Aristegui and the weekly magazine Proceso, and is based on documents linking the wedding to the destruction of the career of a popular Mexican priest once known as the “Father of the Stars.”
In 2004, Rivera married the father of her three children and longtime partner, soap opera producer José Alberto Castro Alva, in the Church de Nuestra Señora de Fátima in Mexico City. Nine days later, Rivera and Castro held another ceremony to celebrate their union on a beach in the resort city of Acapulco.
Four years later, the couple divorced. Soon after, the actress begun dating Peña Nieto, then the governor of the state of Mexico. (Peña Nieto’s first wife died in 2007 after an epileptic seizure.)
In 2008, Peña Nieto’s bid to become president was gathering steam, with help from Mexico’s main TV network Televisa. Rivera was one of the network’s most popular stars and was hired to do some spots for his campaign, which is how the two met.
Talk about a wedding soon followed, but it couldn’t happen in the Church unless the actress’ first marriage was annulled.
In Catholic parlance, an annulment is a ruling by a Church court that a union between a man and a woman is not a valid marriage because it fails one of the traditional tests, such as lack of informed consent.
Given that 82 percent of the Mexican population declares itself to be Catholic, a religious wedding with one of Mexico’s leading telenovela stars was seen at the moment as a boost to the campaign of Peña Nieto, also a Catholic.
In 2009 the couple traveled to the Vatican, and the politician gave Rivera her engagement ring in St. Peter’s Basilica.
The magazine claims that Rivera managed to get her annulment in record time, in a process full of irregularities. It points to high-level figures in the Church with close ties to the political elite, particularly the Archbishop of Mexico City, Cardinal Norberto Rivera, as having greased the wheels.
According to an excerpt from the annulment resolution of May 2009, the tribunal of the Archdiocese of Mexico declared Rivera’s marriage to Castro “null and invalid” because of “defects of canonical form.”
The magazine’s investigation, released Saturday, claims that the tribunal ruled the marriage was invalid because it held that the priest involved, the Rev. José Luis Salinas, had tricked Rivera into marrying at a church without her knowledge, with another priest officiating, and then pretended the ceremony at the beach was the real thing, when it wasn’t.
“Neither the bride nor three of the witnesses who signed [the marriage license in the church], understood that they were celebrating a marriage,” the tribunal ruling says, according to the investigation.
The same document accuses Salinas of “simulating the sacrament and marriage” at the later ceremony at the beach.
Salinas, known as “The Father of the Stars” because he had a show on the Mexican network Televisa, was stripped of his priestly duties and told to leave the Archdiocese of Mexico, even though he was receiving treatment for liver cancer in Mexico City at the time.
The priest insisted he had told the couple from the start that he couldn’t comply with their wishes of a beach wedding because that would be irregular (the Acapulco diocese doesn’t allow weddings at the beach).
That’s why he had arranged for the wedding to be officiated by another priest at a church in Mexico City, followed by a blessing ceremony on the beach. He also insisted that the ceremony at the church was completely valid.
In several letters sent to Rome, obtained by the magazine, the priest claimed his life was being destroyed by political pressure to secure Rivera’s annulment.
To support his case, Salinas supplied a letter from Castro, Rivera’s first husband, saying that the priest had been explicit with the couple regarding the invalidity of celebrating the wedding at the beach in Acapulco.
Salinas died in October 2015. Before his death, however, according to the magazine, he was found innocent by a Vatican court that ordered the Mexico archdiocese to revoke the punishment, but this never happened.
The priest who celebrated the wedding in Mexico, Ramón García López, told the journalists earlier in February that the wedding had taken place in the church according to norm.
VICE News, another Mexican outlet, quoted diocesan spokesman Hugo Valdemar Romero as saying, “This is fantasy.”
Valdemar insisted that the disciplinary procedures against the priest followed years in which he had defied Church rules, with the alleged wedding at the beach being just one example.
“The priest lived in open disobedience and that is why he was taken to trial, not because he was turned into a scapegoat,” he said.
Pope Francis will go to Mexico Feb. 12-17, with a four-hour stop in Cuba for a historic meeting with the Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church.