April 01, 2005

Rivera could be papal successor

The Herald Mexico

BY NICK WILSON/The Herald Mexico
April 01, 2005

With Thursday's giving of last rites to Pope John Paul II the world's eyes turned to Rome; and Mexico home of Cardinal Norberto Rivera, a papacy frontrunner.

Many Mexicans have a special affection for the Pope, who canonized Mexico's Saint Juan Diego, the first Indian saint in the Americas, and to whom the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared according to the Church. The Pope visited the country five times it was the first foreign trip of his papacy as part of the special attention he paid to the second largest Catholic population after Brazil.

John Paul II's papacy coincided with a radical shift in relations between the Vatican and the Mexican government, which for decades had some of the world's strictest anti-religion laws, designed to rein in a Church that for centuries ruled as part of the colonial power structure.

Today, the Church enjoys a warm relationship with President Vicente Fox, who was criticized by some for kissing John Paul II's ring and attending the canonization, the first time a Mexican president attended a papal Mass. It recently granted him an annulment to his first marriage, giving official Church approval to his second marriage to conservative Catholic First Lady Marta Sahagún.

Things have changed so much in recent years that the Senate held a minute's silence, Thursday, when they mistakenly thought the Pope had died.

With Fox's pro-church, rightwingAbuse Tracker Action Party (PAN) in power; increasing pressure to elect a pope from a thirdworld country and a college of conservative cardinals picked by John Paul II, things are looking up for Rivera.

At 62, Vatican watchers consider him to be the right age to succeed his benefactor.

Like the ailing Pope, Rivera is outspoken and traditionalist.

When sex abuse scandals rocked the church he talked of a "media campaign of persecution" against the Catholic Church in the United States, and said there was no "documented denunciation" alleging priestly sexual abuse of minors in Mexico.

The cardinal said that as a Latin American he feels a special obligation to defend the U.S. Church when it is attacked, and that he is a "great friend" of Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston. Law resigned amid sustained media pressure and accusations that he covered up pedophilia by priests in his diocese. John Paul II had previously refused his first offer to quit.

Rivera said of the alleged media plot: "Not only in the United States but also in other parts of the world, one can see underway an orchestrated plan for striking at the prestige of the Church."

He also defended Honduran Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, who is widely considered to be Latin America's other frontrunner for the papacy, and one of 10 cardinals on whom Vatican experts are placing bets for the top job.

Rodríguez compared the U.S. media's coverage of the sex scandals to persecutions under Roman emperors Nero and Diocletian, and 20th century dictators Hitler and Stalin.

Posted by kshaw at April 1, 2005 05:41 AM