“Rather than squaring off , issuing manifestos or organizing marches, Mexicans should sit down at the table and talk,” said Monsignor Franco Coppola, the papal nuncio in Mexico.
No less significant was the fact that he was speaking inside the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the country’s foremost Catholic shrine.
This call to order was clearly directed at local bishops, headed up by the powerful Cardinal Norberto Rivera, who have embarked on a virulent crusade against the decision by President Enrique Peña Nieto to enshrine same-sex marriage in the Mexican Constitution.
In their fight, the bishops have called on Mexico’s far-right to support their attack by criticizing the PRI leader’s mandate.
Under banners bearing homophobic slogans, tens of thousands of Mexican Catholics have taken to the streets in towns and cities across the country in a bid to impose their agenda on a nation where secularism is a pillar of the Constitution.
The assault reached its apex a month ago through Cardinal Rivera’s official outlet, the weekly Desde la fe (or From Faith).
In an incendiary article, homosexuals were blamed for all kinds of horrors, from the rise in sexually transmitted diseases to emotional instability in minors, lower grades in school and even higher rates of sexual assault.
“A child is more likely to suffer sexual abuse from a homosexual father,” claimed the article.
Finally, the Vatican has decided that things have gone too far. The papal nuncio, who had just arrived in Mexico, stepped in.
In late October, Coppola went to the National Palace to present his credentials to the president, declaring that all people “who are part of our sexual diversity” should enjoy the same rights as other Mexicans.
“My suggestion, simply by looking at the Pope, is that people may talk about this subject if they have direct experience dealing with this type of person,” he said, adding as a warning that he himself did not mean to become “a mere observer” in Mexican affairs.
A week later, Cardinal Rivera excused himself for using “offensive terms” to describe “men and women who are attracted to the same gender.” The statement was viewed as forced upon the 74-year-old cardinal by the Vatican.
Then, this past Monday, Coppola spoke inside the much-revered basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico’s patron saint. While exact figures are hard to measure, the church is ranked as the most visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the world.
In the presence of Francisco Robles, president of the Mexican Episcopal Conference and one of the few dissenting archbishops in the country, the Vatican representative undermined the anti-gay offensive.
“I don’t think it is good for the country to confront itself over the issue of same-sex marriage or to go into battle and count how many are in favor and how many are against,” he said. “That is something that touches upon the Constitution, and when we talk about the Constitution, that is something that all Mexicans must share, or at least the vast majority.”
“Hurling insults and prejudice is useless; we have to understand one another,” he concluded, adding that he stands ready to receive representatives of the homosexual community, though not as a mediator.
Coppola’s words are a severe blow to the movement led by Rivera, and shows the way forward for the Mexican Catholic Church. The path was already set out in February by Pope Francis himself, who addressed the country’s bishops inside the cathedral in Mexico City and reproached their close dealing with “the pharaohs,” urging them to drop their palace intrigues and to go out on the street to help the needy and the oppressed instead.
English version by Susana Urra.