Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, February 22, 2016

Papal visit illuminates Mexico's fault lines

After the colonial experience of clerical power, Mexico has been a champion of separation of church and state. But it's also an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic population. Now comes a visit from a Spanish speaking Pope. New York Times reporters think the situation tells us much about Mexico.

Francis’s Visit to Mexico Comes as Country Struggles With Many Ills
For more than a century, the Mexican government has treated the Catholic Church with a deep suspicion, if not outright hostility…. anticlerical laws stayed on the books until just a couple of decades ago.

But gauging by the Mexican government’s enthusiasm ahead of Pope Francis’ visit, the popular leader’s arrival may… provide a much-needed boost to the government’s flagging credibility…
Mexico City billboard

But the pope’s itinerary also poses a major risk to the government, highlighting at each turn some of the state’s most obvious challenges and failings — poverty, inequality, corruption and rampant violence. The pope could even combine all these themes at once if he decides to meet with the families of 43 missing students, whose mysterious disappearance has become a byword for government incompetence and complicity with criminality…

“When Pope Francis urges the Church to be more courageous, to have much more of an evangelical attitude, one of sensitivity and solidarity with the poorest sectors of society, the Mexican hierarchy feels very uncomfortable,” said Bernardo Barranco, a sociologist in Mexico…

The pope’s itinerary spans many of the social and geographic divides that define Mexico. He will visit the nation’s poorest region, Chiapas, to underscore the plight of indigenous communities and their place in the Roman Catholic Church. In Ciudad Juárez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Tex., he will express his solidarity with migrants… He will visit slums and the violence-wracked state of Michoacán, where he will most likely expand his critique of poverty, corruption and drug cartels…

Many ordinary Mexicans are deeply frustrated with the government, with crime and violence features of daily life and the economy cleaved by inequality. Corruption from the top levels of government down to the police on the streets has engendered deep public cynicism. President Enrique Peña Nieto is suffering from the worst poll ratings in the last quarter century…

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