Catholic Church in Mexico

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Cross of Burgundy
Catholic Church in Mexico
Spanish: Iglesia Católica en México
TypeNational polity
OrientationRoman Catholic
TheologyCatholic theology
PresidentFrancisco Robles Ortega
LanguageSpanish, Latin
HeadquartersMexico City
FounderJuan de Zumárraga
OriginEarly 16th Century
New Spain, Spanish Empire
SeparationsProtestantism in Mexico
Members97,864,220 (2020)
Official websiteCEM

The Mexican Catholic Church, or Catholic Church in Mexico, is part of the worldwide Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Pope, his Curia in Rome and the national Mexican Episcopal Conference. According to the Mexican census, Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion in Mexico, practiced by 77.7% of the population in 2020.[1] A Statistica survey suggests this number could be lower, suggesting Catholics could make up only 72% of the nation.[2]

The history of the Catholic Church in Mexico dates from the period of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire (1519–1521) and it has continued as an institution in Mexico into the twenty-first century. In the late 20th century, Eastern Catholic jurisdictions were also established in Mexico.

In many parts of the country, Catholic Christianity is heavily syncretized with folk customs; and Aztec, Mayan, and other pre-Columban religions.


La conversion des Indiens (The conversion of the Indians). Felipe Santiago Gutiérrez, 1894.

The history of the Catholic Church in Mexico can be divided into distinct periods, the basic division being between colonial Mexico, known as New Spain and the national period, from Mexican independence in 1821 until the current era.[citation needed]

The era of the military conquest in the early sixteenth century saw the Church's huge effort to evangelize the indigenous population of Mexico in what is termed "the spiritual conquest". As the Spanish Empire expanded into new territories, the incorporation of the indigenous population was a priority for the crown. The growth of the Spanish and mixed-race urban population of Mexico prompted the establishment of the episcopal hierarchy, under the patronage of the monarch and the creation of dioceses in Mexico.[citation needed]

Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe

In the national period, following independence in early nineteenth century, Mexico established a legal framework that continued the privileged status of the Catholic Church as official and unique religion. La Reforma of the late 1850s sparked an extended period of violent conflict between the conservative supporters of the old order and liberals who sought to displace and diminish the power of the Church. The Mexican Revolution was won by largely anticlerical Constitutionalists and the Church's role in Mexico was restricted constitutionally.[3]

After a period of violent open conflict over religious matters, Church-state relations returned to a modus vivendi while the anticlerical constitutional framework remained in place. Expansion of Catholic participation in the establishment of religious educational institutions and the creation of a conservative political party, the National Action Party, was an important characteristic of the late twentieth century. A new constitutional framework was created in 1992, which reiterated the separation between the Catholic Church and the state and lifted most but not all restrictions[which?] on religious freedom and the activities of the Catholic Church in Mexico.[3]

Organization of the Church in Modern Mexico[edit]

Map of the states of Mexico by percentage of Catholics.
Map of diocese and the ecclesiastical provinces of Mexico updated to 2017.
San Carlos Borromeo Repartiendo Limosna al Pueblo by Jose Salome Pina.
Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla with Our Lady of Guadalupe
Enrique Gorostieta Velarde was a Mexican soldier best known for his leadership as a general during the Cristero War.
Pope Francis greets the faithful in the Zócalo during his visit to the Palacio Nacional as Head of State of the Holy See.
Pope Francis in Mexico City. February 13, 2016.
Guadalajara Cathedral
Catedral of Puebla

The Catholic Church is the world's largest Christian church, and its largest religious grouping. The 2020 census reported that Mexico had some 97,864,220 Catholics, which equates to approximately 78% of the total population,[1] making it the second largest Catholic country in the world after Brazil. The country is divided into 18 Ecclesiastical provinces, containing a total of 90 dioceses. There are 15,700 diocesan priests and 46,000 men and women in religious orders.

José Garibi y Rivera was the first Mexican cardinal of the Catholic Church. Javier Lozano Barragán having served 10 years as a cardinal-deacon, was promoted to Cardinal Priest of Santa Dorotea by Pope Francis on 12 June 2014. Pope Francis selected 15 new cardinals for the Church in January 2015, one of whom was for Mexico in the archdiocese of Morelia. Alberto Suárez Inda is Morelia's first cardinal. According to an Associated Press story, he "has helped mediate political conflicts and kidnappings in one of Mexico's most violence-plagued states".[4] On 7 December 2017, Pope Francis named Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes Archbishop of Mexico to succeed Norberto Rivera Carrera, "a pastor who had as many detractors as supporters" after 22 years in the post.[5][6] His installation was scheduled for 5 February 2018.[7] The Tablet said the appointment was not a surprise because Aguiar is "a towering ecclesial figure in Central and Latin America".[8]

Latin Church hierarchy[edit]

Mexico's ecclesiastical provinces were organized as follows, on 28 September 2019:

Monterrey Cathedral

Eastern Catholic jurisdictions[edit]

There are also separate jurisdictions for specific Eastern particular churches within the Catholic Church in Mexico:[1]

Regular (monastic) Catholic Jurisdictions[edit]

Freedom of religion[edit]

The constitution declares that Mexico is a secular state and provides for the right to religious freedom.[11]

In 2023, the country was scored 4 out of 4 for religious freedom.[12]

In the same year, the country was ranked as the 38th most difficult place in the world to be a Christian.[13]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Díaz Domínguez, Alejandro (February 1, 2021). "¿Qué nos dice el Censo 2020 sobre religión en México?". Nexos (in Spanish). Retrieved 2022-06-18.
  2. ^ "Main religion affiliations in Mexico". Statista. Retrieved 2022-05-19.
  3. ^ a b Roberto Blancarte, “Recent Changes in Church-State Relations in Mexico: An Historical Approach.” Journal of Church & State, Autumn 1993, vol. 35. No. 4.
  4. ^ Associated Press, "Pope's selection of 15 new cardinals reflects church's diversity, growth." The Washington Post January 5, 2015, p. A7.
  5. ^ Beltramo Álvarez, Andrés (7 December 2017). "Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes is Mexico's new primate". La Stampa. Retrieved 9 December 2017.
  6. ^ Rodríguez, Juan Carlos (8 December 2017). "Aguiar hallará una Arquidiócesis Primada en ruinas". Eje Central (in Spanish). Retrieved 9 December 2017.
  7. ^ "Confirma El Vaticano a Aguiar; el relevo se realizará el 5 de febrero". Excelsior (in Spanish). 8 December 2017. Retrieved 9 December 2017.
  8. ^ Lamb, Christopher (7 December 2017). "Pope Names New Archbishops of Paris and Mexico City". The Tablet. Retrieved 9 December 2017.
  9. ^ a b c "Papa Francisco aprueba creación de tres nuevas diócesis en México" [Pope Francis approves creation of three new dioceses in Mexico], El Segundero (in Spanish)
  10. ^ "The Museum of the San Fernando Valley: Claretville Novitiate in Calabasas". 30 September 2009. Retrieved 2015-02-07.
  11. ^ US State Dept 2022 report
  12. ^ Freedom House website, retrieved 2023-08-08
  13. ^ Open Doors website, retrieved 2023-08-08



  • Blancarte, Roberto. Historia de la Iglesia Católico en México. Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Económico / El Colegio de Méxiquense 1992.
  • Cuevas, Mariano, S.J. Historia de la Iglesia de México. 5 vols. 1921–28.
  • Mecham, J. Lloyd. Church and State in Latin America (revised edition). Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press 1966.
  • Schmitt, Karl. The Roman Catholic Church in Modern Latin America. New York 1972.

Colonial Era (1519–1821)[edit]

  • Baudot, Georges. Utopia and History in Mexico: The First Chroniclers of Mexican Civilization, 1520–1569. University of Colorado Press 1995.
  • Brading, D.A. Mexican Phoenix: Our Lady of Guadalupe: Image and Tradition across Five Centuries. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2001.
  • Burkhart, Louise. The Slippery Earth: Nahua-Christian Moral Dialogue in Sixteenth-Century Mexico. Tucson: University of Arizona Press 1989.
  • Cline, Sarah. "Church and State: Habsburg New Spain,” in Encyclopedia of Mexico vol. 1, p. 248-50. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn 1997.
  • Cline, Sarah. "Church and State: Bourbon New Spain,” in Encyclopedia of Mexico vol. 1, p. 250-53. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn 1997.
  • Cline, Sarah. "The Spiritual Conquest Re-Examined: Baptism and Church Marriage in Early Colonial Mexico." Hispanic American Historical Review 73:3(1993) pp. 453–80.
  • Costeloe, Michael. Church Wealth in Mexico: A Study of the Juzgado de Capellanías in the Archbishopric of Mexico, 1800–1856. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1967.
  • Farriss, N.M. Crown and Clergy in Colonial Mexico, 1759–1821. London: Athlone Press 1958.
  • Greenleaf, Richard. The Mexican Inquisition of the Sixteenth Century, 1536–1543. Washington DC: Academy of American Franciscan History 1962.
  • Gruzinski, Serge. The Conquest of Mexico: The Incorporation of Indian Societies into the Western World 16th-18th Centuries. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1993.
  • Kubler, George. Mexican Architecture of the Sixteenth Century. New Haven: Yale University Press 1948.
  • Morgan, Ronald J. Spanish American Saints and the Rhetoric of Identity, 1600–1810. Tucson: University of Arizona Press 2002.
  • Phelan, John Leddy. The Millennial Kingdom of the Franciscans in the New World. Berkeley: University of California Press 1970.
  • Poole, Stafford. Pedro Moya de Contreras. Berkeley: University of California Press 1987.
  • Poole, Stafford. Our Lady of Guadalulpe: The Origins and Sources of a Mexican National Symbol, 1531–1797. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
  • Ricard, Robert. The Spiritual Conquest of Mexico. Translated by Lesley Byrd Simpson. Berkeley: University of California Press 1966. (originally published in French in 1933).
  • Schwaller, John Frederick. Church and Clergy in Sixteenth-Century Mexico. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press 1987.
  • Schwaller, John Frederick. The Origins of Church Wealth in Mexico. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press 1985.
  • Taylor, William B. Magistrates of the Sacred: Priests and Parishioners in Eighteenth-Century Mexico. Stanford: Stanford University Press 1996.
  • von Germeten, Nicole. Black Blood Brothers: Confraternities and Social Mobility for Afro-Mexicans. Gainesville: University of Florida Press 2006.

Nineteenth Century[edit]

  • Bazant, Jan. Alienation of Church Wealth in Mexico: Social and Economic Aspects of the Liberal Revolution, 1856–1875. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1971.
  • Callcott, Wilfred Hardy. Church and State in Mexico, 1822–1857. Durham: Duke University Press 1926.
  • Ceballos Ramírez, Manuel. "La Encíclica Rerum Novarum y los Trabajadores Católicos en la Ciudad de México, 1891–1913." Historia Mexicana 33:1 (July–September 1983).
  • Costeloe, Michael P. Church and State in Independent Mexico: A Study of the Patronage Debate, 1821–1857. London: Royal Historical Society 1978.
  • Mijanos y González, Pablo. The Lawyer of the Church: Bishop Clemente de Jesús Munguía and the Clerical Response to the Mexican Liberal Reforma. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press 2015.
  • Schmitt, Karl M. " Catholic Adjustment to the Secular State: The Case of Mexico, 1867–1911." Catholic Historical ReviewXLVIII No. 2 (July 1962) 182–204.
  • Scholes, Walter V. "Church and state in the Mexican Constitutional Convention, 1856-57." The Americas IV No. 2. (Oct. 1947), pp. 151–74.

Twentieth Century and Third Millennium[edit]

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  • Bantjes, Adrian. "Idolatry and Iconoclasm in Revolutionary Mexico: The Dechristianization Campaigns, 1929–1940." Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos 13:1 (winter 1997), pp. 87–120.
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  • Butler, Matthew. "Keeping the Faith in Revolutionary Mexico: Clerical and Lay Resistance to Religious Persecution, East Michoacán, 1926–1929." The Americas 59:1 July 2002, 9-32.
  • Camp, Roderic Ai. Crossing Swords: Politics and Religion in Mexico. New York: Oxford University Press 1997.
  • Ceballos Ramírez, Manuel. El Catolicismo Social: Un Tercero en Discordia, Rerum Novarum, la 'Cuestión Social,' y la Movilización de los Católicos Mexicanos (1891–1911). Mexico: El Colegio de México 1991.
  • Chand, Vikram K. Mexico's Political Awakening. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press 2001.
  • Ellis, L. Elthan. "Dwight Morrow and the Church-State Controversy in Mexico." Hispanic American Historical Review Vol 38, 4 (Nov. 1958), 482–505.
  • Espinosa, David. Jesuit Student Groups, the Universidad Iberoamericana, and Political Resistance in Mexico, 1913–1979. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press 2014.
  • Jrade, Ramón, "Inquiries into the Cristero Insurrection Against the Mexican Revolution." Latin American Research Review 20:2 (1985.
  • Mabry, Donald J. Mexico's Acción Nacional: A Catholic Alternative to Revolution. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press 1973.
  • Meyer, Jean. La Cristiada. 3 vols. Mexico City: Siglo XXI (1985).
  • Meyer, Jean. The Cristero Rebellion: Mexican People Between Church and State. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1976.
  • Muro, Victor Gabriel. Iglesia y movimientos sociales en México, 1972–1987. Mexico: Colegio de Michoacán 1994.
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  • Purnell, Jennie. "The Cristero Rebellion" in Encyclopedia of Mexico. vol. 1. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn 1997, 374–377.
  • Purnell, Jennie. Popular Movements and State Formation in Revolutionary Mexico: The Agraristas and Cristeros of Michoacán. Durham: Duke University Press 1999.
  • Quirk, Robert E. The Mexican Revolution and the Catholic Church, 1910–1929. Bloomington: Indiana University Press 1973.
  • Rice, Elizabeth Ann. The Diplomatic Relations Between the United States and Mexico as Affected by the Struggle for Religious Liberty in Mexico, 1925-29. Washington DC 1959.
  • Sherman, John W. "Liberation Theology" in Encyclopedia of Mexico, vol. 1, 742–45. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn 1997.
  • Vargas, Jorge A. "Freedom of Religion and Public Worship in Mexico: A Legal Commentary on the 1992 Federal Act on Religious Matters," BYU Law Review Volume 421 (1998), Issue 2, article 6.
  • Wright-Rios, Edward. Revolutions in Mexican Catholicism: Reform and Revolution in Oaxaca, 1887–1934. Durham: Duke University Press 2009.

External links[edit]