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LAS AMERICAS The New Mexican Inquisition BY JOHN ROSS Mexico City, January 25 uppose you were an orphan and you were adopted by a couple of queers how would you know which one was your mother and which one was your father?” sneered Juan Sandoval Iniguez, Cardinal of Guadalajara, speaking before a recent international anti-abortion conclave organized by the abrasive Catholic PRO VIDA group at a prominent university here. Cardinal Sandoval, who is prone to display such intolerance in public, was Pope John Paul’s designated representative during the recently concluded Synod of the Americas in Mexico City, which set the Roman Catholic Church’s agenda for the “new evangelization” of the Americas. Pope John Paul II often displays similar intolerance when it comes to sexual politics. His harangues against abortion, the condom, family planning, safe sex, and homosexuality have rankled non-believers for a generation, and the Pontiff’s performance during his recent Mexican trip, perhaps his last to Latin America, did not feature much new material. On the eve of John Paul’s departure for the Aztec capital, he inveighed against same-sex marriage an admonition graphically illustrated by Televisa, one of the sponsors of the Papal visit, when it flashed film of a lesbian marriage on its news broadcasts. As expected, John Paul also weighed in against birth control and abortion at every opportunity, whether a mega-Mass attended by two million faithful or a demure tete-a-tete with the international diplomatic corps. While Church antipathy to government family planning programs rages, Mexico’s population has swelled to 100 million, with more than a quarter living in extreme poverty. Although family growth has slowed to 2.9 children per household, increases are concentrated in the poorest regions 75 percent of the babies are born to the poorest Mexicans. The Roman Catholic Church wields great influence in impoverished areas, such as Chiapas, where birth rates are growing a third faster than the rest of the country. Similarly, the Health Secretariat’s limited abortion options are relentlessly at Posada tacked by a church hierarchy often divided on other issues. Conservative bishops concur with liberationists, such as San Cristobal de las Casas’ Samuel Ruiz, that abortion is a mortal sin. Indeed, after passage of a state abortion-on-demand law several years ago, Don Samuel protested by displaying grisly pictures of aborted fetuses in San Cristobal’s “Cathedral of Peace.” Yet a million abortions, most illegal, are performed in Mexico each year, according to leading reproductive rights spokesperson Marta Lamas, who estimates that 1,500 women a year lose their lives in such procedures. Government condom distribution programs have also met with heavy flak from the Church. Conasida, the Health Secretariat’s AIDS agency, counts 38,000 active cases in the country, a figure that independent safe-sex groups claim should be tripled. AIDS is now the third leading killer of men between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-four. The war against abortion and the condom is declared from the pulpits of the land every Sunday by the lords of the Church, but the ground troops in this holy crusade are lay zealots, like the rank and file of the PRO VIDA group. PRO VIDA, formed in the late seventies, parallels the growth of the U.S. anti-abortion movement after Roe v. Wade. Under the direction of Jorge Serrano Limon of the Mexico City archdiocese, PRO VIDA has grown into a mass pressure organization that holds weekly vigils and pray-ins outside of Health Secretariat offices for family planning and AIDS-prevention programs. “The Secretary of Health \(Dr. Juan women a year against their wills,” Serrano recently told a reporter during a demonstration the PRO VIDA leader was apparently referring to the agency’s distribution of inter-uterine devices. Serrano insists that family planning programs are designed to force women to work outside of the home. “They are trying to destroy the family in these offices,” he mutters, staring down the stone building. A thin, intense man, Serrano and his followers have not yet blown up any clinics or murdered an abortion doctor, but the PRO VIDA rap echoes that of U.S. antiabortion firebrands. Besides “murdering babies,” Serrano charges that Conasida condom giveaways actually spread AIDS and teen-age pregnancy, because “30 percent of these things fail to work properly.” Serrano contends that condom distribution is a conspiracy hatched by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Only chastity, marital fidelity, and “education” are the correct Catholic cures for overpopulation and the spread of AIDS. But PRO VIDA’ s educational agenda 28 THE TEXAS OBSERVER FEBRUARY 19, 1999