Cristeros, Sinarquistas, and Sedevacantistas: Conflict and Convergence in Mexico’s Catholic Right during the Cold War

Sunday, January 5, 2020: 4:10 PM
Chelsea (Sheraton New York)
Luis Herran Avila, University of New Mexico
During Mexico’s Cold War, Conservative Catholics saw a window of opportunity to rekindle past grievances with the postrevolutionary state, and push back against Leftist influence, while also targeting the “enemies within.” As they grappled with the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council and its calls for religious tolerance and a reassessment of Catholic social doctrine, traditionalist and conservative sectors of the clergy and a number of lay organizations mobilized against the threat of “progressivism.” Yet, their internal debates and splits were equally important in shaping their political actions and perceptions. This paper examines these debates and tensions within the post-Cristero Catholic Right, and the ways in which traditionalist attacks against “progressivism” during the sixties and seventies reveal a field of contention within the Catholic Right, and within Mexican and global Catholicism more broadly. This paper argues that this critical Cold War and Post-Vatican II juncture exacerbated old debates about the meanings of Catholic social thought, rather than effectively uniting Mexican Catholics under one platform. More specifically, the paper scrutinizes the debates between former Cristero activist and leader of the Sinarquista movement, Salvador Abascal, and Fr. Joaquín Sáenz Arriaga, a traditionalist Jesuit that reached global fame for attacking the progressive positions of Pope Paul VI, and questioning his legitimacy as the Vicar of Christ. Moving beyond their theological tone and seemingly elite character, these debates reveal a contentious plurality within the Right, which needs to be acknowledged and studied to better understand how these actors acted in and reacted to the challenges posed by a rapidly changing world.