MEXICO CITY — The Mexican congress removed restrictions on preaching about politics from the pulpit, a move some priests say increases religious liberty in a country with a history of state-sponsored anti-clericalism.
The changes, approved June 19 in both the Senate and lower house, modify Article 16 of the country’s electoral crimes laws, which prohibited priests from providing people with information on how to vote. It also prohibited them from pressuring people to vote for certain parties or candidates or abstain from voting.
The new rules eliminate the word “orientar,” (roughly translated as “guiding” or “directing” people in their voting), but leaves the prohibition on inducing the vote intact. Violations of the law are punishable by fines of up to 500 times the daily minimum wage of approximately $5.
Catholic priests welcomed the changes but called the new law “incomplete.”
“There’s been a confusion between orienting (people on electoral issues) and inducing the vote,” said Fr. Hugo Valdemar Romero, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Mexico City, who has been denounced five times to the Interior Ministry for statements on social matters that left-wing parties considered overtly political. “The law tries to clear up this confusion of words.”
After the Cristero Rebellion of the 1920s, Mexico imposed anti-clerical laws, such as restrictions on the church owning property and priests and religious not wearing habits in public. Many of the rules have been relaxed since Mexico and the Vatican established relations in 1992, but not all. Priests have stayed on the sidelines of political activities, although politicians increasingly seek them out come election time.
“All candidates for governor and mayor look to have their photo taken with us,” Archbishop Alberto Suarez Inda of Morelia told an audience June 17 at the Jesuit-run Iberoamerican University.
Fr. Valdemar said a 2012 constitutional amendment to allow increased religious liberty remains incomplete as the regulatory laws for its implementation have not been approved.
“It’s obviously positive,” Fr. Valdemar said of the electoral law changes. But he added, “It’s incomplete because the Religious Associations Law isn’t being reformed.”