By KELIN DILLON
Just days after Protestant Christian leader and president of the National Confraternity of Christian and Evangelical Churches (Confraternice) Arturo Farela Gutiérrez spoke out in defense of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) “hugs, not bullets” policy for addressing violence and publicly criticized the Catholic Church as “setting the country on fire,” members of the Mexican Catholic clergy responded in turn, saying the Church’s condemnation of López Obrador’s is justified due to the continued rise in violence and impunity in Mexico that’s only worsened under the AMLO administration.
“No one is starting a fire. What the Church is doing is trying to bring this situation under control, because when a forest catches fire and the only thing we do is watch it, the fire continues and grows with greater force,” former rector of the Pontifical University of Mexico and current director of the National Observatory of the Mexican Episcopate Conference (CEM) Mario Ángel Flores Ramos told daily Mexican newspaper El Universal.
Rather than “start a fire,” Flores Ramos claimed the Catholic Church is committed to raising awareness across the country about the responsibility the Mexican community has to reduce violence and impunity throughout the country.
“We are also calling for the responsibility of the authorities to review their strategies and to assume their commitment,” said Flores Ramos. “So far, there has been no response; there has been no empathy. On the contrary, there has been rejection and everyone can see it.”
Flores Ramos went on to say that “the Church, after that rejection, which even included insults, did not respond in an inappropriate or violent manner.”
“On the contrary,” he said, “the Church has called for prayer, for commitment, for peace. We are not calling for a fire, but for an awareness of the citizens and a responsibility by the rulers,”
Despite all of the public back-and-forth between the Catholic Church and López Obrador, Flores Ramos said there’s been very little effective dialogue between the two parties in an effort to resolve the issues, saying “of course, there have been meetings, dialogue, but it has been minimal.
Instead, he said, AMLO has favored the Protestant churches of the Confraternice, “which is small, but has a lot of political influence.”
Flores Ramos added that the Catholic Church has not spoken out with the intent to attack AMLO, but to resolve one of Mexico’s most enduring problems that’s only continuing to worsen under the leadership of López Obrador.
“The opinions that the Church has made are not attacks, they are criticisms that are valid,” said the CEM director. “And we are only exercising a right enshrined in the Constitution. We are not interfering in political issues, because they do not interest us, but as part of Mexican society, we are legitimately expressing our points of view. So it is not about attacking anyone, but about being co-responsible with the path of society.”
In response to Farela, Flores Ramos issued a reminder that the Mexican government is not bound by nor required to follow religious doctrine, but must comply with constitutional requirements to the letter of the law.
“I think that Farela should speak in a broader sense because it is our task as a Church every day not only to teach, but to live this,” said Flores Ramos. “That which a ruler says it but does not live by is of no use to us. Love of neighbor is the principle of the Gospel and of the word of God, and it is what we teach every day. A government that attacks, that divides, where does love of neighbor leave? What is the use of greeting only those who greet you? What is the use of loving only those who love you? What is the use of helping only those who help you?”
Father Omar Sotelo, the director of the Multimedia Catholic Center (CCM), echoed Flores Ramos’ sentiments, saying that the Catholic Church will not remain silent in the face of injustice as it continues to aspire toward peace for Mexico.
“The fact that the Catholic Church speaks of peace does not mean that it does not speak of injustices,” said Sotelo. “It does not mean that the Church is going to remain silent. The Church announces the Gospel, but it also denounces those injustices that go against the Gospel. A Church that does not denounce is a Church that is good for nothing.”
Sotelo also said: “We don’t need to look good with anyone, not even with the president. If there are actions in this and another government that goes against the teachings of the Gospel, the Church is here to denounce it.”
“The phrase of hugs, not bullets, has been said in a context that unfortunately has become politicized and, excuse me, Mr. President, but these phrases have been politicized and used at the service of his strategies. But (the president) has to recognize that the strategies are subject to correction. Just because he says them does not mean that they cannot be corrected.”