Foxy Catholic

The church in Mexico

Spain’s President José María Aznar greeted the Mexican press corps shortly after 9 a.m. on July 2. He began by extending "triple congratulations" to his host Vicente Fox-on the first anniversary of Fox’s electoral victory over the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), on his fifty-ninth birthday, and on his marriage earlier in the morning to Marta Sahagún, his press spokesperson and companion.

News of those nuptials jolted Mexico’s Roman Catholic hierarchy because neither Fox nor Sahagún had had previous marriages annulled. Mexico City’s Cardinal Archbishop Norberto Rivera Carrera denied that the couple would be excommunicated, but said they could not take the sacraments. Guadalajara’s Cardinal Juan Sandoval Iñiguez, the Mexican cleric closest to John Paul II, was more critical. He voiced sadness for the president’s "irregular, sinful situation," which set a "bad example" for Mexico’s 101 million inhabitants, 85 to 90 percent of whom are Catholic.

A cloud still hangs over Fox-church relations as the reform-minded president prepares to visit the pope in early October, and the controversy affords an opportunity to ask several questions: What is the recent church-state record in Mexico? Who are powerful players in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and what role did they play in Fox’s election? How have Fox’s ties with the church evolved?

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About the Author

George Grayson, who teaches government at the College of William & Mary, has written Mexico: The Changing of the Guard, published by the Foreign Policy Association in New York.