10 March 2016, The Tablet

Advisors criticised for what Pope Francis said - and didn't say - on Mexico trip

Attacking the bishops was a bad call while not highlighting the 25,000 disappeared was troubling, critics say

The advice that Pope Francis was given prior to and during his recent trip to Mexico has been called into question by the Catholic weekly newspaper of the Archdiocese of Mexico City and a prominent theologian.

An editorial in Desde La Fe has taken umbrage at the decision of Francis to lambast the Mexican Catholic hierarchy during his trip in February, suggesting that he must have been receiving bad advice.

The archdiocesan newspaper praised the work of the Church in Mexico, which it said had kept more than 80 per cent of the population professing Catholicism despite pressure from evangelical missionaries, and asked: "Does the pope have some reason for scolding Mexican bishops? ... Who gave the Pope bad advice?."

It was referring to the speech Francis gave on 13 February to bishops at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico, in which he rebuked the clerics for living like princes and resting on their laurels.

The Desde la Fe editorial was quick to defend the bishops who "have been accompanying a suffering and downtrodden people, living a life of giving to neighbours and not of princes without contact with the flock", but sociologist and Church observer Rodolfo Soriano Nunez suggested that it confirmed Cardinal Rivera's rejection of the Pope's reform and "his unwillingness to accept any kind of criticism".

In the speech Francis had called on prelates to denounce drug cartels, better attend to victims of violence and avoid brokering backroom deals that lack transparency. He called on them to fight "as men, face-to-face" if they do fight - an allusion to disunity in the episcopal conference.

The speech was seen as a response to criticism from Catholics involved in human rights issues that Church leaders were not speaking out enough on issues such as crime and corruption, and that they were seeking favour from the political class.

Father Hugo Valdemar Romero, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Mexico City, said the editorial was written by staff at the publication without input from Cardinal Rivera. He said it was, however, an attempt to set the record straight on issues such as unity among the bishops and Church hierarchy's attention to the faithful.

"There are not these kinds of fights in the bishops' conference," he said, adding Cardinal Rivera has had no conflicts with anyone in the conference and was not in opposition to Pope Francis. "It's not a church that has been distant from the people," he added.

Meanwhile, theologian and expert in Catholic Social Teaching Hans Egil Offerdal, writing exclusively for The Tablet, said the Pope's trip also failed to challenge the most pressing issue facing the country: the 25,000 disappeared persons.

Offerdal said: "The word 'disappeared' did not cross the lips of the Pope while on Mexican soil. Pérez Esquivel’s assessment of the young Jesuit provincial’s cowardice during the Dirty War, makes the silence of Francis faced with the 25,000 disappeared, and their families, in Mexico even more troublesome to interpret in a kind manner.

"For the evangelical part of the Mexican Catholic Church it must be difficult to face a tomorrow with ongoing disappearances with a Pope that, effectively, did not touch one of the most burning human dignity issues in a contemporary Latin-American democracy. The Virgin of Guadalupe is probably wiping away a tear due to the fact that the prophetic voice of Pope Francis was muted in Mexico."



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