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Mexico Restores Relations With The Vatican

September 21, 1992

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ The overwhelmingly Roman Catholic nation of Mexico on Monday restored diplomatic relations with the Vatican that were severed 125 years ago during a crackdown against the church.

The announcement late Sunday night crowned years of gradual improvement in relations. It nevertheless was a milestone for a country whose revolutions in the 19th and 20th centuries targeted church power and made repression of the clergy official policy.

″We are now at peace,″ said Roman Catholic Bishop Genaro Alamilla.

He said Mexico would benefit from relations with the Vatican, ″a state that has no armies, no economic power, but the moral power to speak out and say what is good or bad.″

Historian Enrique Krauze called it ″an act of political maturity on the part of Mexico.″

″The government recognizes it already has enough problems at present without having to keep dragging those of the 19th century,″ Krauze said.

Freemason leader Carlos Vazquez Rangel, whose organization fought church influence in the last century, warned that ″we must now be very careful the Holy See does not meddle in Mexico’s internal affairs and vice versa.″

President Carlos Salinas de Gortari this year oversaw constitutional reforms that ended the most rigorous restrictions on the church. Clergy can vote and wear clerical garb in public for the first time since the 1910-1920 revolution.

Mexico has been overwhelmingly Catholic since the Spanish conquest in 1521. The Roman Catholic Virgin of Guadalupe may be the country’s most distinctive and revered symbol.

A few hundred worshippers gathered at her shrine here on Monday to give thanks for the renewal of ties with the Vatican.

But religious faith has been mixed with deep suspicion of the church’s worldly power.

The church amassed tremendous wealth during the Spanish empire and its leaders were allied with the conservative government against most reformers.

It was the colony’s main lending institution and by the 18th century held more than half the country’s land. It also held a virtual monopoly on education, baptisms, weddings and funerals.

Ironically, two Spanish priests named Miguel Hidalgo and Jose Maria Morelos led the 1810 movement for independence from Spanish. Both were executed after being excommunicated.

Church-educated President Benito Juarez, the father of modern Mexico, in 1857 expropriated all church properties and drastically reduced the role of the clergy.

After several outbursts of violence, Mexico broke relations with the Vatican in 1867. They were re-established for brief periods until the 1910-1920 revolution.

That uprising led to the 1917 Constitution that forbade priests from voting or wearing clerical garb in public. Foreign priests were expelled. Many churches were closed.

Church loyalists rebelled in the so-called ″Cristero War″ in 1926-29 in which thousands died. British author Graham Greene dramatized the conflict in his novel, ″The Power and the Glory.″

Eventually, the worst of the conflict ended in an informal compromise. The government pledged not to apply anti-clerical laws too strictly. The church gradually began to again run its own schools as ″civic corporations.″

When Pope John Paul II made his first visit to Mexico, then-President Jose Lopez Portillo received the pope at the airport and 21 million people turned out to see him.

Salinas has further improved ties, exchanging personal representatives.

Although the new laws forbid clerics to engage in partisan politics or run for office, church leaders have increasingly spoken out on politically tinged social and human rights issues.

They have helped block some legislation, such as a proposal to legalize abortion in southern Chiapas state.

The decision to re-establish ties ″overcomes an anachronism,″ said spokesman Joaquin Navarro at the Vatican. ″Mexico brings itself in line with the established international practice ... of separation of church and state.″

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