Mexico's newest cardinal champions the poor, preaches humility
Oct 19, 2007
In naming Archbishop Francisco Robles of Monterrey as one of 23 new Roman Catholic cardinals, the Vatican chose a clergyman who advocates for the poor and beseeches the faithful to embrace humility.
(Houston Chronicle, Oct. 19, 2007) MEXICO CITY — With Robles, the Vatican may aim to moderate the more conservative tendencies of the Mexican church, a leading analyst said.
"He is tied more to progressive sectors," said anthropologist Elio Masferrer, an authority on the Mexican Catholic church.
Robles, 58, becomes one of six Mexican cardinals, only half of whom will be eligible to vote for the next pontiff should the 80-year-old Pope Benedict XVI either die or retire in the near future.
Mexico's two other active cardinals — Norberto Rivera of Mexico City and Juan Sandoval of Guadalajara — are considered social conservatives.
Masferrer said Rivera is a cardinal with a "preference for the rich" and Sandoval is allied with the more traditional and conservative Catholicism.
As senior prelate in Monterrey, Mexico's business capital, Robles presides over some of Mexico's wealthiest and more conservative Roman Catholic clans.
Many of the city's elite lobbied the Vatican for a more conservative bishop before Robles was appointed there nearly five years ago, Masferrer said.
A glance at his recent sermons suggests that Robles might give the rich a reason for indigestion.
"Ill-gotten and ill-used riches close our heart," Robles said in a homily two Sundays ago. "We can pass our lives without even realizing the existence of the poor, the needy, the people who require our help."
Robles' ascension to cardinal comes at a crucial time for the Catholic church in Mexico. Millions of Mexicans have converted to Protestant faiths, and many of the remaining 85 million Catholics rarely attend Mass or receive sacraments.
While the Mexican senior clergy remains dominated by conservatives, many of its parish priests and nuns, especially those in impoverished communities, favor the so-called theology of liberation, which preaches a "preferential option for the poor."
Robles is not considered a liberation theology adherent, Masferrer said.
With only about 14,000 priests, the Mexican church has just one cleric per 7,000 faithful. In contrast, Masferrer said, there is one Protestant pastor for every 300 believers.
In addition, Rivera is battling allegations that he protected a priest accused of sexually abusing young boys in Mexico and the United States. Rivera has denied the accusations.
Because active cardinals elect the pope, their naming is as much a political as a religious act.
With the 23 new cardinals named this week, the pope seems to have bolstered the clergy in Europe over those in the Western Hemisphere and the developing world. Ten of the 18 new cardinals hail from Europe, and Europeans now make up half of the body that will vote for any future pope.
Benedict, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was elected upon the death in 2005 of John Paul II. Speculation circulated before Benedict's elevation that a clergyman from Latin America — home to nearly half of the world's 1 billion Catholics — would be given the post.
Two other Latin American bishops were named cardinal with Robles. Argentine Leandro Sandri, 63, is a longtime Vatican bureaucrat who served as a close aide to John Paul. Odilo Pedro Scherer, 58, is the archbishop of Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Robles, the third of 16 children born to a working-class family in Jalisco state, was educated in seminaries and ordained in 1976. After three years of study in Rome, he worked his way up the church ranks in Mexico, serving as a parish priest, seminary director and bishop. He was appointed archbishop of the Monterrey diocese in January 2003, following the retirement of Cardinal Adolfo Suarez.
"Humility is a virtue that God rewards," Robles said in another sermon. "How dangerous is haughtiness for whoever has power, whatever kind of power, political or economic.