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Mexican Leftist Party Sues Catholic Church for Violating Constitution - 2003-06-03

A small leftist political party in Mexico has filed complaints against five prelates and officials of the Roman Catholic Church accusing them of violating the constitution by instructing parishioners on how to vote in an upcoming election.

Leaders of the Mexico Posible, or Mexico Possible party are leading the charge against the church officials citing pastoral messages issued in several churches in recent weeks, telling the faithful not to vote for any candidate who favors legalizing abortion, marijuana use or homosexual marriage. The Mexico Possible party favors all three propositions and is competing in the nationwide mid-term elections set for July 6.

Party leader Ramon Loya said the church officials cannot be allowed to violate the law and interfere with the electoral process.

He said it is immoral for any official or cleric from any religion to use their influence for political purposes with their congregations, something that is illegal in Mexico.

Friction between civil and church authorities dates back to colonial times in Mexico. After the country gained independence from Spain in the early 19th century, restrictions were placed on the church. During the 1920s the government repressed the church and even executed a number of priests. Until 1993, when restrictions on the church were relaxed, priests and nuns were not allowed to wear their religious garb in public. The Mexican constitution forbids any intrusion by the church in civil affairs and Interior Department officials say the recent statements by church officials could lead to legal action, including fines of as much as 800,000 pesos, about $80,000.

Mexico City's Catholic Cardinal Norberto Rivera denied any attempt by the church to interfere in the electoral process with an eye towards establishing itself as the official religion of the nation.

He said religious people have a right to speak freely and that the church officials under attack did not refer to any party or candidate by name in their pronouncements. He said they simply spoke of principles that are a fundamental part of Catholic doctrine and belief.

Other church officials have accused the Mexico Possible party of provoking the dispute with the church in order to gain free publicity ahead of the July election. Under electoral rules a party must gain at least two percent of the vote in order to qualify for future funding from the government. Mexico Possible is one of several small parties that have been able to continue largely because of this funding.