MEXICO CITY (Reuters Life!) - The debate over a radical new law legalizing abortion in Mexico City may be the jolt that was needed to bring Catholic drifters back in line with the faith's values, a top Church spokesman said.
Pressure from the Catholic Church -- including a letter from Pope Benedict -- and a petition for a referendum failed to stop the Mexican capital's leftist-run assembly passing a law last week to allow abortion in the first three months of pregnancy.
But heated debate around the law may prompt Catholics in Mexico, the world's second-biggest Catholic nation, to consider the dangers of letting values slip, said Father Hugo Valdemar, spokesman for Mexico City's Catholic Archdiocese.
Some 88 percent of Mexicans classify themselves as Catholic but Valdemar said the percentage who regularly attend mass and apply strict Catholic values to their lives was probably a much lower 10 to 12 percent.
Few expect abortion could be legalized nationally, given the federal government's opposition, but concerned Church leaders have excommunicated legislators who backed the law and told bishops across Mexico to start a campaign of awareness against what they see as sliding morals.
Q: Why did the Church come out so strongly against this law? A: The legislation is illegal and anti-constitutional. It's a perversion of values. Our Mexican constitution says the state must defend life from its conception until its natural end.
It hurt citizens that they weren't listened to. Even people in favor of abortion wanted to be consulted.
Q: Does any church have a right to tell people how they should live when not everyone is of that faith?
A: The Church doesn't intervene in everything and it's not true that the Church wants a return to a confessional state. Its interest is to protect family values and ethics, but as a voice of conscience, not by getting into politics.
This law touched fundamental aspects of our faith and morals. They wanted to legislate on a fundamental human right - the right to be born. The Church feels a pastoral right to raise its voice and oppose this kind of perverse law.
Q: Why should the Church get so involved in a political decision?
A: It's strange that it's the Church that comes out to defend the constitution. But it's about protecting society from itself. There is a spiral of destruction that concerns us greatly. It means an erosion of the value of life, a breeding of a culture of indolence. That's why the Church came out with such force.
Q: Why did the Church lose the battle?
A: It's not a lost battle. The Church has gained public presence. There's now a consensus that the Church can state an opinion. It's a big achievement. We've won, in that our faithful have woken up, are concerned and want to participate.
The Vatican was extremely surprised at the debate because in no other country have we seen something like this. A debate on an international scale that lived for six weeks, topped the news and sparked a publicity war. It's very satisfying.
Q: Is the Church worried about shrinking congregations?
A: What worries us is not seeing many young people. They are there, but not enough to be able to maintain numbers in the future. It's one of our big worries. But we were very pleased a lot of young people got involved in the abortion controversy.
Q: How does the Catholic Church fit into a world that is shifting in favor of abortion, euthanasia and gay unions?
A: There's an increasing tendency to compromise values. We have an enormous challenge which is to spread the gospel. The Church can't expect values to come naturally in the culture people are growing up in. If we don't seriously educate people the result will be a "diet" or "a la carte" Christianity where you pick what you want from the menu.
What we have today in Mexico is more of a cultural Catholicism than a deep-felt one. We're not worried about these liberal groups because they're a minority. Our priority is this great mass of Catholics who we need to spread the gospel to.
Q: How will the Church meet this challenge?
A: Catholics in Latin America must be missionaries. It must not just be the priest spreading the word but the faithful too. They must be active carriers of the gospel.