MEXICO CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador is criticizing his country's Catholic bishops for not spurning "neoliberalism ... as the pope does," and is urging the hierarchy to "follow his example."
Neoliberalism is a term infrequently used by proponents of free-market capitalism, having long been associated with the economic theories espoused by Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek and James Buchanan.
In the parlance of Latin American leftists, for example, the term has become associated with the laissez-faire capitalism and political repression practiced by Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet, who overthrew Marxist president Salvador Allende in 1973. When López Obrador served as mayor of Mexico City (2000–2005), he instituted social programs and often clashed with then-president Vicente Fox Quesada over the latter's economic policies.
In his Oct. 8 press conference, President López Obrador said, "I really like that Pope Francis speaks about these issues." According to the leftist leader, the pope's opinions "have meant, in themselves, a renewal in the Catholic Church, because even though all religions should put humanism at the center, in many cases it is forgotten and it diverts the pastoral mission towards other conceptions."
Seeking to couch his socialism in Scripture, López Obrador said that "there are very strong guidelines in the Gospels against those who are very hard-hearted, against those who are selfish, against usury, against whitewashed sepulchers and many others. The needle in the haystack and the eye in the needle, well, many things."
In addition to being an extraordinary religious leader, Pope Francis is a good head of state, one of the best popes in the history of the Church. And as for the relationship with Mexico, it has been a very good relationship, because generally, in moments of transformation, the popes have not been in favor of the people of Mexico.
While López Obrador has himself said that he is a "believer," he has not been known to attend religious services with regularity.
The Mexican leader said:
This pope is different, Pope Francis, and hopefully and at least the hierarchy will follow his example. I do not hear that they speak as the pope does. Do you hear from the hierarchy that neoliberalism is spoken of and neoliberalism is questioned like the pope does? Or maybe I don't have enough information.
López Obrador's remarks followed a question by a reporter who asked him to reflect on the pope's recent encyclical, Fratelli Tutti. The president did not refer directly to the document, however. He has frequently sought to frame his policies as reformist while he continues to deal with violence unleashed by narco-terrorists and accusations of widespread governmental corruption.
The Mexican government has claimed in the past that there is an affinity between Pope Francis and President López Obrador. For example, when Alberto Barranco, Mexico's ambassador to the Vatican, presented his credentials to the pontiff in December 2019, the diplomat told a Mexican journalist, "He told me that, personally, he supports López Obrador's policies. Yes, that's exactly what he told me."
Barranco specified that the pope agrees with Mexico's policy of allowing Central American immigrants to pass through the country and head for the United States.
On what the Mexican government billed as a courtesy visit, Beatriz Gutiérrez Müller— wife of the president — met Pope Francis. On Oct. 10, she delivered a letter to the pontiff in which the Mexican president again asked the Catholic Church to apologize for its role in the conquest of Mexico by Spain. Next year, Mexico will commemorate the 500th anniversary of the overthrow of the Aztec civilization by Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés, which was accompanied by the evangelization of the native peoples. The letter said in part:
I take this opportunity to insist that, on the occasion of these events, that the Catholic Church, the Spanish monarchy and the Mexican State must offer a public apology to the native peoples who suffered the most disgraceful atrocities — the seizing of their property and lands and [efforts to] subdue them — from the conquest of 1521 until the recent past.
This is the third such letter that López Obrador has sent to the pope. So far, the Vatican has pointed out that Pope Francis has already joined his predecessors, including Pope St. John Paul II, in begging forgiveness for excesses committed in the name of spreading the gospel in the Americas.
López Obrador has asked several times for the Vatican to vindicate the priests Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla and José María Morelos, both of whom fought in Mexico's war of independence in the early 1800s.
López Obrador wrote:
In particular, I think that it would be an act of humility and at the same time of greatness that the Catholic Church, regardless of the debate on whether Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla was excommunicated or not, would vindicate the historical deeds of the father of our country. ... Don't you think that, rather than harming the Catholic Church, that a reference in honor of Hidalgo and Morelos would praise it and cause the happiness of the majority of Mexicans? Only his sensitivity could understand the significance of this act of historical contrition.
On Oct. 11, in an editorial titled "Let Us End Divisions," the Mexican bishops pleaded: "In the midst of the most difficult health emergency of the last 100 years, and a crisis of values that has unleashed more violence and crime and economic uncertainty that is apparently limitless, is when we need leaders and factors who can call us to unity."
A spokesman for the bishops later reminded López Obrador that various papal encyclicals and statements, as well the bishops' pastoral letters, have condemned the injustices of economic liberalism.
According to ACI News, Fr. Hugo Valdemar said on behalf of the bishops:
There are several pastoral letters and documents of the episcopate that have made a specific denunciation of the injustices of economic liberalism or neoliberalism. That the president is unaware of these complaints shows more than ignorance of the Catholic Church and a totally inappropriate criticism. His superficial opinions speak of bad advice and the prejudices from which he speaks.
Relations between the Church and the Mexican government have been rocky for more than a century.
In the 1800s, land and other properties owned by the Church were seized. Then, during the Mexican Revolution that began in 1910 and continued for a decade, further properties were seized and severe restrictions put in place. When priests were hunted down and shot, Mexican Catholics revolted against the government in what has become known as the Cristero War and brought about a stalemate that continued into the 1990s.
The Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI), which ruled for 70 years following the revolution, began allowing more freedom to the Church in the late 1990s, concurrent to the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
The Church and Mexico's current government have clashed over issues such as abortion and LGBTQ rights. López Obrador's leftist National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) espouses policies in line with leftist parties elsewhere.