Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Vice: "Dump the Dealers"

This week, a good bit of the Vatican will find itself south of the border -- in Mexico City, for the 6th World Meeting of Families.

Unlike the last edition of the triennial gathering, the Pope won't be in attendance, so the event will take a lower profile than 2006's gathering in Valencia. With a million-plus slated to be in attendance, however, it still bears watching as the five-day meeting, which begins Wednesday, will mark the first major public rollout of the more affirmative approach of the global church's new top man on family matters, Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, who B16 named as president of the Pontifical Council for the Family last summer.

But even so, the former Florentine's spotlight will likely be minimal given the presence of the current Curia's lead show-stopper -- the Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone SDB, who's attending as papal legate.

Best known in Italy for his stints as a calcio analyst and always ready with a money quote -- or, for that matter, an arsenal thereof -- the "Vice-Pope" hadn't even left Rome before he was making global headlines for his journey by recommending excommunications... just not, given the context, for the folks you'd think:
Decrying the violence that Mexicans are enduring, the Vatican has suggested excommunication as a possible punishment for drug traffickers whose war with the government has led to the deaths of thousands of people in the last year.

But the Roman Catholic Church's severest form of rebuke would probably have little effect on traffickers and killers who lack a religious conscience, Bertone acknowledged.

Speaking to Latin American journalists at the Vatican before traveling to Mexico on Monday, Bertone said it was a "duty" to fight drug gangs because their actions represent "the most hypocritical and terrible way of murdering the dignity and personality of today's youth."

"Certainly, excommunication is a very harsh deterrent that the church has used to deal with the most serious crimes in its history, from the very first centuries," Bertone said when asked if the censure would be appropriate. Excommunication bars a Catholic from receiving sacraments and participating in public worship.

"But I should observe that excommunication is a punishment that touches only those who have some form of ecclesiastical conscience, an ecclesiastical education," he added.

The Vatican, Bertone said, is alarmed at the "disasters" of drug-fueled violence, kidnappings and generalized insecurity in Mexico and, increasingly, in some of its Central American neighbors. He called on Catholics to pray for traffickers to have a change of heart....

President Felipe Calderon launched the Mexican army a little over two years ago in a nationwide offensive against powerful and well-armed drug gangs. Rather than pacify the country, the conflict has only increased the bloodshed. More than 5,000 people were killed last year alone.

Officially, the church hierarchy in Mexico has been supportive of the government campaign while also urging dialogue and an end to violence. In some parts of the country, however, priests have been willing to accept money from local drug lords to pay for church repairs or other community projects.

"They are very generous with the societies of their towns," Bishop Carlos Aguiar Retes, president of the Mexican Bishops Conference, said in April, according to the newspaper Reforma. In some remote towns, he said, "they put up lights, communications, roads, at their own expense. . . . Often they also build a church or a chapel."

The remarks outraged many Mexicans, and church officials later said the bishop was taken out of context. But human rights activists have long complained of complacency by many priests.
The circumstances behind it remain murky, but officially, a government inquest concluded that a shootout between rival drug-gangs led to the 1993 murder of Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo.

Given his red hat just two years before, the 68 year-old Guadalajara archbishop was gunned down in his car at the city's airport.

In his press conference, Bertone likewise addressed the global economic crisis and the Pope's long-delayed "social encyclical," which his top aide pledged will "certainly" roll out in the first half of this year.

PHOTO: Reuters