MEXICO CITY — José Buendía, the leader of a small radical political coalition in Mexico, was furious. In front of television cameras, he announced he would start legal action against certain Mexican bishops. Their crime? Taking a stand in the run-up to congressional elections.

Buendía sued Bishop Mario de Gasperín of Querétaro in the attorney's Office for the Attention of Electoral Crimes, arguing that the bishop “has violated the federal code of Institutions and Electoral Process, as well as the federal penal code.”

“[Bishop] de Gasperín has repeatedly called in his homilies, and most recently in his pastoral letter, not to vote for parties who are promoting the legalization of abortion, which [the political coalition] México Posible includes as part of its political platform. … In this sense, this is nothing other than an illegal [interference] of Church authorities in political, electoral issues,” Buendía said.

Supporters of the Church and bishops, however, said critics of the bishop's pastoral letter are upset about possible pro-Church political gains.

“What Mr. Buendía considers a violation of electoral laws is nothing else but the justifiable concern of the Mexican episcopate over the increasing influence gained in the media and public opinion by anti-life and anti-family forces in the during these past few years,” said Miguel Angel Calzada, a journalist from the Diocese of Acapulco.

The elections, to be held July 6, will renew the 500-seat Mexican Parliament, and the episcopate has decided to go bold on Church teachings. In fact, on March 25, the president of the Mexican bishops' conference issued a statement clearly reminding Catholic politicians about “the moral duty they have in their public role, especially legislators, to remain faithful to the teaching of the Gospel.”

According to the statement, this requires “a clear commitment [to] their Catholic faith and [the rejection] of laws contrary to moral and ethical principles like those that attempt [to deny] the right to life or [attack] institutions such as marriage and family.”

But the strongest statement — one that sparked fierce reaction from feminist groups and liberal politicians — was an unprecedented “Message to Mexican Families” released May 2 by the episcopate at the end of their yearly assembly.

The message to families, which replaced the usual pastoral statement, says, “The family, the shrine of life and Good News for the third millennium, has inspired us to reflect, with the hearts and minds of shepherds, about the reality of human life within the family.”

It also warns of increasing threats to the family in Mexico.

From that point on, the document becomes a primer on Catholic teaching about life, marriage and family, and also a rejection of several political and legal initiatives.

Referring to the increasing support to legalize homosexual unions, for example, the document clearly states, “The human being is either male or female, with biological, genetic, psychological and spiritual differences that complement and enrich them mutually.”

“In the sacrament of marriage,” the document continues, “the love of the couple is called to be unique, indissoluble and holy.”

“This truth,” the bishops say, “is contrary to the increasing pro-divorce mentality.”

The message to families then tackles contraception, saying, “it is grave for married couples” to use contraceptives, “resorting even to sterilization to avoid a pregnancy, or, even worse, resorting to abortion.”

“It is impossible to be a Catholic and to promote, at the same time, the ‘right’ to abortion,” the document says.

The text also reminds parents that children are a gift “and cannot be considered a ‘right.’ Parents may not resort to assisted procreation through immoral means such as in vitro fertilization.”

Stand on Elections?

Despite the letter being addressed to families, several local media outlets said the intention of the bishops was to take a strong public stand with the elections in mind.

In fact, the outcome of the congressional elections will decide the future of several anti-life laws that have been introduced in both the states and the national congress.

Nevertheless, the statement that sparked the fury of the México Posible political coalition was the pastoral letter of Bishop de Gasperín. In a short, blunt statement titled “Un CatÛlico vota Así” (This is how a Catholic votes), Bishop de Gasperín said the Catholic Church does not have a political party but that “the Catholic faithful is bound to the duty of being coherent with their faith in private and public.”

Therefore, a Catholic “cannot vote for a party or candidate that does not respect the dignity of the human person, like those who defend or promote prostitution, homosexual unions, chemical or surgical [birth control], pornography, human cloning, the free use of drugs or drug trafficking, the free, indiscriminate sale of alcohol, ‘machismo’ and any kind of ethnic or racial discrimination,” the bishop wrote.

Moreover, Bishop de Gasperín said a Catholic “cannot vote for a party or candidate opposed to the inalienable right of parents to choose the kind of education they want for their children, according to their convictions.”

According to the bishop, a Catholic “must vote for a candidate who has demonstrated with facts his or her spirit of service to others, preferably to the poor, a candidate that in all and above all defends the dignity of the human person.”

According to Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel of San CristÛbal de las Casas, who recently delivered a homily calling on Catholics not to vote for pro-abortion and anti-family candidates, “the bishops are not campaigning in favor of a political party, because the Church is not married to any political party.

“But it is our right and our responsibility to recall the basic duties of Catholics who want to promote a society based on moral principles and basic human rights. … If someone with his or her vote supports pro-abortion candidates, he or she is becoming responsible for the death of many innocents,” the bishop added.

According to Rosario Alfaro, operational director of the Lay Association for Sexual and Affective Maturity, “there is no doubt that an anti-life, anti-family mentality is catching on not only among the youth but also among political parties.”

“The gains made by pro-abortion and pro-gay organizations can be seen in the recent changes in the programs of some political parties as well in the promises they are making during the current campaign,” Alfaro added. “I think the Mexican bishops are doing the right thing, because if they are not the ones openly defending the Gospel of Life, who will?”

Alejandro Berm?dez is based in Lima, Peru.