The Vatican is issuing a mea culpa in a spat with Mexico over critical remarks by Pope Francis on the "terror" engulfing the Latin American country.
In a private email to a friend, Francis had warned against the "Mexicanization" of their native Argentina, a reference to the dominance of drug-trafficking and violence.
The friend, Gustavo Vera, an activist in Buenos Aires, published the pope's email on his foundation's website, touching off anger within the Mexican government. The Foreign Ministry sent a letter of protest to the Vatican, asking for an explanation and expressing "sadness and concern," Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Meade said.
"The pope did not mean to hurt the feelings of the Mexican people, nor did he intend to minimize the efforts of the Mexican government" in the fight against drug trafficking, papal spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi told reporters in Rome.
"The expression 'avoid Mexicanization' was used by the pope in an email of a strictly private and informal nature, in response to an Argentine friend who is deeply involved in the battle against drug abuse, who had used the phrase," Lombardi continued in a separate statement released by the Vatican on Wednesday.
It was unusual for an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country like Mexico to so formally and publicly scold the pope, who is known for his candid and sometimes controversial comments.
Carlos Puig, a popular Mexican columnist and political commentator, said on his Twitter account that such reaction reflected the old authoritarian tendencies of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, a throwback to times when it could more easily control any criticism.
The Mexican government may have felt its critics were piling on. Coincidentally, the pope's comments were made public about the same time Alejandro G. Iñárritu, who won the best director Oscar on Sunday for the movie "Birdman," called for a better government in his native Mexico.
"Drug trafficking is a challenge we share, and a challenge to which Mexico has made enormous efforts," said Meade, the foreign minister. "Rather than seeking to stigmatize Mexico, or any other region of Latin American countries, what should be sought are better … spaces for dialogue and the recognition of Mexico's efforts."
Lombardi said a note of explanation was delivered to Mexico's ambassador to the Holy See on Tuesday.
"The pope intended only to emphasize the seriousness of the phenomenon of the drug trafficking that afflicts Mexico and other countries in Latin America," he said.