ROME — Sometimes the media focus on Pope Francis is so intense it’s easy to forget there’s plenty of Catholic drama elsewhere too, including his home region of Latin America.
In just the past week, we’ve seen a Mexican bishop who’s ready to go to jail to defend marriage as a union between a man and a woman, a Peruvian cardinal insisting most people in his country don’t actually want gay marriage, an update on a cloistered convent raided by police in Argentina, and appeals from the church in Venezuela for peaceful resolution of the country’s problems.
Here’s a roundup of the latest Catholic news from south of the border.
Bishop Pedro Pablo Elizondo of Cancun, Mexico, said recenty that he’s “willing to go to prison to defend the family,” should it come to that.
“I think some charitable soul would go to visit me, especially in this year of mercy,” he said.
Elizondo was addressing a current national debate in Mexico regarding gay marriage, which President Enrique Pena Nieto is considering approving nationwide. (It’s currently available in Mexico City and a handful of states).
The bishop also warned that the government might accuse those who oppose equal marriage, as it’s being called, of “civil disobedience.”
Also on the table is introducing “gender education” in schools, something Pope Francis has repeatedly rejected, describing it as part of an “ideological colonization.”
Activist Roberto Guzmán, from the pro-LGTB collective Red Positiva, presented an allegation against Elizondo to the National Council to Prevent and Eradicate discrimination, charging him with discriminating against gays and lesbians.
The complaint filed also claimed the bishop was opposing article 130 of the Mexican Constitution, which dictates that religious ministers can’t oppose the law nor call the faithful to do so in any public event or religious ceremony.
Weeks ago, Elizondo had said at the end of a Mass that he was going to attend a rally organized by the Frente Nacional por la Familia (National Family Front), and inviting those in the church to do the same.
On Saturday, bishops from 11 different Mexican states participated in rallies that took place all over the country in defense of the “natural family,” and rejecting Pena Nieto’s bill proposal. According to organizers, more than a million people participated in the 300 events that took place across Mexico.
The following day, those in favor of gay marriage rallied in the country’s capital, marching to the cathedral church requesting, among other things, the removal of Cardinal Norberto Rivera of Mexico City.
On Monday, Cardinal José Francisco Robles Ortega of Guadalajara, echoed Elizondo, denouncing that the government wants to impose an ideological line which tells parents that they’re not allowed to pass on their faith to their children, because the educational system is secular, but the state can impose gender ideology.
“Is this a secular state? [No], it’s totalitarian,” Robles said.
Peru is another Latin American country currently debating gay marriage. Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani of Lima recently said that gay marriage and the so called “day after pill” are things the people are not interested in.
“We’re hearing about this at every hour, as if the whole of Peru wanted it. It’s not true. Ask the people, ask the people if they want homosexual marriage,” he said in his radio show, Dialogues of Faith, calling for the government to hold a referendum.
In late August, a cloistered convent of Discalced Carmelites in the northeastern province of Entre Rios was raided by the police after a magazine published testimony from two former nuns, who claimed they were subjected to elements of torture and that the abbess wouldn’t allow them to leave the cloister.
After the police raid, the two nuns confirmed their testimony, leading to the abbess, Mother Maria Isabel (Luisa Toledo is her given name) to be investigated and called to testify by a local court, on the grounds of unlawful privation of liberty.
Talking to a journalist but keeping her identity hidden, one of the former religious said that worse than the physical torture was the “psychological” abuse because, she claims, the mother superior made her believe she was responsible for the evils of the world.
The religious sisters who made the allegations claim they had to “escape” the cloister, which they had entered voluntarily, one in 1988 and the second ten years ago. They claimed they had been forced to torture themselves, using a cilice — a barbed chain typically worn around the upper thigh, which has a long tradition in the Catholic Church.
It’s been used by many saints, including Mother Teresa, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ignatius Loyola and St. Therese of Lisieux. It’s currently used by members of some religious orders and movements such as Opus Dei.
Maria Isabel was supposed to testify late last week, but she had the flu, so her testimony was rescheduled for the upcoming days.
The 17 Carmelites who remain in the convent have denied any abuse against them. Earlier in the month, they published a video on Facebook which quickly became viral, through an account that was later deleted.
In it, they explained that they were happy “to be brides of Christ” and called the allegations of tortures “an invention.”
“This is a life of penitence, not torture, that is a word that was totally distorted,” one of them said.
“I can say that I’m happy, I was never tortured nor mistreated. I find what’s being said funny because it’s all a lie. We don’t expect to be understood, only respected, and for it to be clear that we’re happy. Under no circumstances were our human rights denied,” another one adds.
On Sept. 5 the Union of Journalists of Entre Rios released a statement regretting the way the justice system acted, based on a publication that didn’t meet the “basic principles of ‘actual malice,’ which require checking information with three reliable sources.”
Among the things they underline is the fact that the convent is under the jurisdiction of the Vatican, and the authorities should at least have notified the papal representative in the country that the raid was to occur.
The Deputy Attorney General of the Superior Court of Entre Rios, Cecilia Goyeneche, said that the convent is not considered Vatican property.
“I am surprised that there are people who believe they’re outside the system of Argentine justice,” she said, adding that anyone, regardless of who they depend hierarchically, is first an “Argentine citizen,” therefore subject to the country’s jurisdiction.
On Sept. 8, Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino of Caracas, Venezuela, decried the country’s “grave food and medicine problem,” which, he said, has to be resolved in a pacific way.
Minutes before he began celebrating Mass on the feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, Urosa addressed the country’s political situation, which is deteriorating rapidly.
Venezuela is facing a deep economic recession fueled by the fall in the price of oil, which accounts for 96 per cent of its exports. Basic goods, from bread to toilet paper are hard to come by, and those who can afford them, can spend up to 16 hours in line to get them.
In the country with the world’s largest oil reserves, people are dying of hunger, and President Nicolas Maduro, who succeeded Hugo Chavez, blames Venezuela’s troubles on the drop in crude prices and an “economic war” led by the business world and the opposition to destabilize his government.
Urosa, together with many other members of the clergy, has often spoken critically of the national government, mostly urging it to listen to the people’s will.
Last year Maduro’s party lost the majority in the National Assembly, chosen by popular vote, but has since then overruled the body’s decisions, including a decree to open up the borders for international aid to arrive.
The president has obstinately denied charitable institutions and NGOs the ability to send basic products in an attempt to deny Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis.
Leaders of the opposition are now racing against the clock, to guarantee a referendum before January 10 which would depose the entirety of Maduro’s government and lead to national elections.