By Roque Planas
The Catholic Church hierarchy in Mexico rushed to grant an annulment for Mexico’s first lady, the former telenovela star Angélica Rivera, five years ago so she could marry Enrique Peña Nieto before he launched his successful campaign for the presidency, according to reports published over the weekend in Mexico.
The reports, published jointly by Proceso Magazine and Aristegui Noticias, question the legitimacy of Rivera’s annulment and suggest church authorities scapegoated a priest in order to expedite the request for the political power couple.
The reports come at an inconvenient time for Peña Nieto. Pope Francis is scheduled to begin a highly anticipated visit to Mexico on Feb. 12. Peña Nieto and Rivera have closely identified their religion with the Catholic Church, announcing their engagement during a visit to the Vatican in December 2009. Roughly 85 percent of Mexicans considered themselves Catholic as of 2010, according to the Pew Research Center.
Rivera married José Alberto Castro, a television producer with Mexican broadcaster Televisa, in 2004. The couple had three children and divorced in civil proceedings in 2008.
The following year, after beginning a relationship with Peña Nieto, who then served as governor of the state of Mexico, Rivera appealed to church authorities to annul her previous marriage to Castro. Annulment, required by church law before divorced Catholics can remarry, is normally slow process that can take years to complete.
But the Archdiocese of Mexico City, led by Cardinal Norberto Rivera, granted the annulment in just three months to the future first lady. Mexican church authorities ruled the marriage between Castro and Rivera invalid because the ceremony had been conducted on the beach by a priest from the state of Chihuahua who lacked permission to perform marriages in either Mexico City or Acapulco. Furthermore, the Archdiocese of Acapulco forbids priests from conducting weddings at the beach, the ruling says.
A month after the marriage was annulled, the church barred the priest who conducted the Acapulco ceremony, the Rev. José Luis Salinas Aranda, from living in Mexico City or holding any church-related office within the city’s archdiocese. The ruling cited Salinas Aranda’s performance of the Acapulco ceremony as the main reason behind his punishment. It also accused him of performing unspecified “irregular and illicit sacramental celebrations” for years in the Archdiocese of Mexico City.
But documents published by Proceso and Aristegui Noticias over the weekend show that Rivera and Castro had celebrated a small, religious marriage ceremony officiated by a separate priest in Mexico City a few days before the Acapulco beach ceremony, casting doubts on the annulment’s validity. The beach ceremony led by Salinas Aranda was intended as a blessing and renewal of vows rather than an official church marriage, the reports say.
Spanish speakers can read the documents below.
The Catholic hierarchy reversed the decision to punish Salinas Aranda in an unappealable ruling in 2012, saying that the archdiocese hadn’t allowed the priest to defend himself and didn’t assign him an attorney as required. The ruling derided the priest’s punishment as a “gross misrepresentation of justice.”
The annulment of Rivera’s 2004 marriage to Castro, however, was unaffected by the reversal.
A spokesman for the church in Mexico, Hugo Valdemar, acknowledged that the decision against Salinas Aranda was reversed. But in an interview with the BBC, he disagreed that the ruling should affect Rivera’s annulment.
“This report uses half-truths to confuse public opinion,” Valdemar said.
The archdiocese did not immediately respond to phone calls from The World Post.
Salinas Aranda died in October after a years-long struggle with cancer.
The weekend reports, repeated widely in Mexican media, put Mexico’s president and his wife at the center of another controversy.
In 2014, Aristegui Noticias reported that Peña Nieto and Rivera were living in a custom-made, multi-million dollar mansion built by Grupo Higa, an important government contractor that won several bids from the Mexico state government while Peña Nieto served as governor. The company was part of a consortium that won a $3.7 billion contract from the Peña Nieto administration without competition to construct a high-speed rail line.
Rivera said she purchased the home in 2012. But after a parade of bad press and a government investigation that later absolved the president and first lady of wrongdoing, Rivera backed away from her purchase of the house to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
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