Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Ratzinger Pays Surprise Visit to Mexico; Tells Mexico Press Meeting Is Chance for 'Adjustment.' (Vatican Official Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger)

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Ratzinger Pays Surprise Visit to Mexico; Tells Mexico Press Meeting Is Chance for 'Adjustment.' (Vatican Official Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger)

Article excerpt

CUERNAVACA, Mexico -- Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Vatican's office on doctrine, surprised Mexican church officials and angered many Catholic and Protestant theologians with a visit to Mexico on May 3.

Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, rarely speaks to journalists, but he told the Mexican press the meeting was a chance for him to make "a doctrinal adjustment" in the Latin American church.

Ratzinger's arrival coincided with mounting tension in the southern state of Chiapas where Zapatista rebels threatened to return to armed conflict following the issuing by a judge of harsh prison sentences against a journalist and an indigenous man charged with collaborating with the rebels.

Reports in the Mexican press said Cardinal Juan Sandoval of Guadalajara learned of the Ratzinger visit a few days before the opening in his diocese of a May 6-11 regular gathering of the presidents of the doctrinal commissions of the 22 episcopal conferences of Latin America. Ratzinger presided over the meeting.

In statements to the press, Ratzinger said the Vatican was deeply concerned with liberation theology, the New Age movement, Indian theology and problems resulting from the Latin American bishops' preferential option for the poor.

In the opening homily of the conference, Sandoval spoke against feminism and the theological underpinnings of the ecological movement, topics that Ratzinger had earlier hinted were also on the Vatican's agenda.

Sandoval said liberation theology had passed out of style. "Now the doctrinal deviations of the Catholic church are manifested in indigenous theology, the ecological movement and feminism," he said.

The growth of Protestantism in Latin America rapidly assumed the center stage of the bishops' meeting and in the Mexican press. Reports from the Mexican bishops' conference say nearly 20 million Mexicans, or one-fourth of the population, are now Protestant. The reports say that between 1990-95, an estimated 40 million Latin Americans left the Catholic church to join Protestant churches, the more fundamentalist of which are commonly referred to in the region as "sects." Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons and independent evangelical groups were named as drawing the most new members.

Speaking through Archbishop Jorge Enrique Jimenez, president of CELAM, the Latin American bishops' council, the prelates gathered in Guadalajara blamed the U.S. government for the mass Catholic exodus to Protestantism.

Jimenez quoted the Reagan-era Santa Fe Documents, a strategic study of Latin America that suggests U.S. national interests would be served by fostering the development of Protestant groups in Latin America. The Protestants, the documents state, would help counteract the influence of base communities and liberation theology.

Protestant church leaders reacted swiftly to Jimenez's statements and to his use of the word sects to describe their churches. The Secretariat of the Mexican Evangelical Christian Churches denounced Ratzinger and the conference as "an escalation of religious intolerance in Latin America."

Catholic theologians also criticized Ratzinger's visit. Enrique Dussel, an Argentine church historian and theologian, called the visit another sign of the Vatican's "retreat from the 20th century into the age of the Inquisition."

"Ratzinger," Dussel said, "is more concerned with condemning heretics than with the pastoral work of the church. It appears that the church is more concerned with condemning liberation theology than with caring for the poor. …

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