These Mexican Cardinals Are in Trouble for Telling Catholics to Pray — Let’s Support Them

COMMENTARY: No government has the right to tell religious leaders they cannot encourage people to pray.

Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes (C) installed as Archbishop of Mexico City at the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City, on February 5, 2018.
Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes (C) installed as Archbishop of Mexico City at the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City, on February 5, 2018. (photo: Pedro Pardo / AFP/Getty)

Two Mexican cardinals, a bishop and three priests were found guilty of violating the Mexican constitution for urging Catholics to pray for guidance before voting. 

The prelates also warned that the ruling socialist party was a threat to life and the family and was trying to turn the nation into Venezuela. 

The government’s ruling violates the widely accepted right to freedom of speech, especially political speech that criticizes the government. More importantly, these Catholic clergy, including Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes, the archbishop of Mexico City, and Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, the former archbishop of Guadalajara, are on the right side of the issues they raise. 

Their arguments deserve a respectful hearing. Those who disagree should make counterarguments. Bringing legal action instead of making that case does nothing to strengthen public confidence in the merits of the policies the prelates are criticizing. 

Mexico’s Electoral Tribunal handed down its decision on Nov. 18 in response to a lawsuit filed by Mexico’s ruling socialist party, the Movement for Social Regeneration (MORENA). The statements the government found objectionable did not mention a political party or politician by name. 

In addition to Cardinals Aguiar and Sandoval, Bishop Pedro Pablo Elizondo Cárdenas of Cancún-Chetumal and Fathers Ángel Espinosa de los Monteros Gómez Haro and Ángel Flores Ramos were also convicted. The latter is the former rector of the Pontifical University of Mexico. These clergymen highlighted the key issues at stake in the election and urged Catholics to pray before casting their votes. 

One of the tribunal judges, Villafuerte Coello, denounced the accused clerics for encouraging Catholics “to pray and ask God to illuminate them when they vote. … Votes aren’t celestial or spiritual things. This is about deciding votes with knowledge, with information, apart from pondering other things, and this is just what must be respected, because celestial inspiration is not going to cause the best people to be in popularly elected positions. It’s logical.”

On the contrary, we see nothing logical about claiming that all religious people are, by definition, illogical. This is anti-religious bigotry, plain and simple. And Coello revealed her totalitarian mindset when she said, “Of course, that must not be permitted.” 

Is she saying that people praying before they vote must not be permitted? Or is she saying that a religious leader cannot suggest to people that they pray before they vote? Neither interpretation rescues this judge from the charge of religious intolerance. 

No official of any country has the right to tell people what they can or cannot say in their private prayers. No government has the right to tell religious leaders they cannot encourage people to pray. 

The socialist/sexual revolutionary ruling party is trying to crush dissent from its inhuman policies. They are not satisfied with holding offices of significant power and influence. They want all the power and all the influence. 

These Catholic leaders have been convicted for doing their Christian duty. They warned their flock against government efforts to kill preborn children, harm families, destroy marriage and move toward totalitarianism. For this pastoral care, they were labeled criminals and could face fines as high as the equivalent of $150,000.

The judges cited the 1917 Constitution of Mexico as justification for these convictions against free speech. Among other things, this constitution prohibited the clergy from wearing their garb in public, voting in elections, intervening in politics and teaching pre-adolescent children. 

Although some provisions have been relaxed, Article 130 of the Constitution still states: “Ministers cannot … oppose the laws of the country or its institutions, in acts of worship or of religious propaganda, nor in publications of a religious nature, nor offend national symbols in any way.”

Every prohibition in that is tyrannical, and wrong. Every person of any faith or no faith should be speaking out against this ruling in the strongest terms.

In whatever time or place, the Church at its finest stands up to the ruling powers of its age. In the controversies over Arianism, the emperors sent saints like Athanasius into exile for defending orthodoxy. St. John Chrysostom, venerated by the Church in the East and the West, excoriated the empress of his day for her lavish self-indulgent lifestyle. Bartolomé de las Casas pleaded with the King of Spain to protect the natives of the New World from the depredations of the Spaniards under his authority. Sadly, the Church, both East and West, has frequently failed to live up to this noble calling. 

Nevertheless, as Christian leaders both clerical and lay, we have a duty before God to speak against evil. Clergy are entrusted with souls — to guide people to truth and light, and away from falsehood and darkness. Lay Christians should keep in mind: All of us have the authority and responsibility to speak the truth. 

In our day and time, too few Christians of any rank speak the truth about marriage, life and family. Too few cardinals, bishops, priests and laity are willing to see that all these hot-button issues are part of one overriding question: What is the proper place of sex in society? 

The Church says the proper place for sexual activity is within the lifelong married union between one man and one woman, for the procreation and education of children, for the benefit of those children and the whole society.

Our modern world says that there is no “proper” place for sexual activity. We can do whatever we want and nothing bad will happen to us or those around us. Children are a curse on the planet, not a blessing from God. Children are a choice, not a gift. 

There can be no compromise between these two visions. 

When St. Peter and the Apostles were commanded in court not to preach the Gospel, they refused, saying, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Cardinals Aguiar and Sandoval and the others are following in the Apostles’ footsteps. They are heroes of the Christian faith, and true pastors to their flocks.

These Catholic clerics need our most fervent prayers. The Bible says that when the leaders of the council heard the Apostles’ response, “they were enraged, and wanted to kill the Apostles.” We wholeheartedly support these Mexican clergy, and not only because they are exercising their God-given right to speak their views. We support and salute them because their views are correct. 

Jennifer Roback Morse is the founder and president of The Ruth Institute an international interfaith coalition to defend the family, and author of The Sexual State. Father Mark Hodges is an archpriest of the Orthodox Church of America and the Video Producer of the Ruth Institute’s weekly podcast series, The Dr. J Show. The Ruth Institute’s Censorship and Propaganda Resource Center includes analysis of attempts to suppress speech, including religious speech, in the United States.