Friday, April 27, 2007

Mexico: Not Your Average Catholic Country
Gail Heriot

Some people see this week's legalization of abortion in Mexico City as a signal that the Roman Catholic Church is losing its grip on Latin America generally.  Maybe.  I afraid I'm in no position to judge.  But Mexico has never been your average Catholic country.  Its history is full of profound ambivalence toward the Church.  Of course, there are many serious Catholics in Mexico.  But anti-Catholic sentiment is also great there-- certainly greater than anything that folks north of the border can fathom.  At times, the conflict has led to bloodshed.

Following the Mexican Revolution, the 1917 Mexican Constitution made it unconstitutional for Roman Catholic priests to wear a collar in public, to vote or to comment on political matters in the press.  Monastic orders were outlawed, public worship outside church buildings was outlawed, and religious organizations' right to own property was limited.  Between 1926 and 1929, an open rebellion known as the Cristero War broke out against the vehemently anti-Catholic government.    In the end, about 90,000 people were killed. That kind of anti-clericalism doesn't go away overnight.  It goes underground (or not-so-underground) and comes back again and again.

Weirdly enough, the Cristero War was in the news too this past week.  Evidently, the Miss Universe Pageant is scheduled to take place in Mexico next month.  To stir up a little publicity a photograph of Miss Mexico's dress was made public.  The floor-length dress was adorned with crosses and a bullet-studded belt.  The billowing skirt featured sketches of Catholic rebels facing the firing squad and hanging from trees.  It was ... uh.... a Cristero War fashion statement.  When the Mexican public saw it, there was an uproar.  The skirt has been nixed.  As far as I know, the rest of the design has been retained.    

Mexico can be a strange place sometimes.

(Thank you to Skeptical for pointing out an unintentionally comical typo.)

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Gail Heriot


Uh, I think her dress was made 'public.' If not, that might itself be cause for uproar.

Posted by: Skeptical | Apr 27, 2007 4:37:21 PM

Oops! I'm not the world's best proofreader. At least I got "Constitution" right; Right Coast readers might become even more impatient with me if I'd written "Constipation" instead.

Posted by: gail | Apr 27, 2007 7:02:37 PM

Isn't it rather odd to suggest that it is unusual for catholic countries to have anti-clerical citizens?

Posted by: dearieme | Apr 29, 2007 9:17:43 AM

I think what's unusual is that it led to laws that priests can't wear their collars in public, etc. and to 90,000 deaths--all within my mother's lifetime and all graphically depicted in Miss Mexico's dress. What's on Miss U.K.'s dress this year?

Posted by: gail | Apr 29, 2007 11:59:54 AM

Within my mother's lifetime, anti-clerical Spaniards were raping nuns and crucifying priests.

Posted by: dearieme | Apr 29, 2007 12:51:22 PM

I don't think anyone would call Spain your average Catholic country either. That said, as far as I know, the priest crucifixions in the 1870s are generally thought to have been a hoax. (If that's what you are referring to, your mother must be very old.) I'm not aware of any later allegations of crucifixions. As for raping nuns, there was a horrifying case in New York back in 1981 that included mutilations. I suspect nuns have been raped many places (though I hope under circumstances less horrifying than the New York case).

None of this makes Mexico--a country whose 1917 Constitution prohibited priests from voting, wearing collars in public, or commenting on politics in public, outlawed public worship, and prevented the church from owning property, a country that fought a war on Catholicism in the late 1920s in which 90,000 died, and a country that planned to depict the public hanging of priests on Miss Mexico's dress for the Miss Universe pageant--your average Catholic country.

Posted by: gail | Apr 29, 2007 1:50:39 PM

There were allegations of priest crucifixions during the Spanish Civil War - whether true or not I don't know. I presume that nun-raping did happen then. I'm not sure what an average catholic country is - Belgium?

Posted by: dearieme | Apr 29, 2007 1:56:30 PM

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