Colorful, retired Mexican bishop dies of COVID-19
MEXICO CITY — Retired Bishop Onésimo Cepeda Silva of Ecatepec — the colorful and controversial Mexican bishop who rubbed shoulders with the wealthy, served one of the country’s toughest dioceses and made a brief but disastrous foray into electoral politics – died on January 31. 84.
The Diocese of Ecatepec has confirmed Bishop Cepeda’s death, as has the Mexican Episcopal Conference which, barely 10 months earlier, had disavowed his registration as a legislative candidate for a minor political party.
Bishop Cepeda had contracted COVID-19 three weeks earlier, according to church statements. Mexican media reported that he had been intubated.
Bishop Cepeda charted a controversial course in Mexican public life. He served the run-down suburbs of Mexico City, but appeared in society publications and golfed at expensive country clubs.
Politicians and business elites regularly attended his birthday celebration. He was reportedly under investigation for acquiring a wealthy church donor’s art collection, which contained works by Latin masters Diego Rivera and Rufino Tamayo. Bishop Cepeda also served as a godfather to bullfighters, according to Mexican media.
Such was his stature that his death was a trending topic on social media – the product of his unusual biography, political connections and tendency to speak intemperately.
“My friends are the poor and the rich. Unfortunately, I was born rich,” Bishop Cepeda told Mexican media.
Bishop Cepeda was born on March 25, 1937 in Mexico City. After obtaining a law degree, he enters the world of finance and founds a bank with Carlos Slim Helu, who later becomes for a time the richest man in the world.
But he later entered the priesthood. He served as rector of the seminary in the diocese of Cuernavaca, when the local leader was Bishop Sergio Méndez Arceo, who was called a “red bishop” by critics for his promotion of liberation theology.
According to journalist Emiliano Ruiz Parra, who covers the Mexican Catholic Church, Bishop Cepeda split ideologically from Bishop Méndez and turned to charismatic Catholicism. In 1995, Saint John Paul II appointed him bishop of the new diocese of Ecatepec, on the northeastern outskirts of Mexico City. He retired in 2012.
Pope Francis visited the diocese in 2016. During his visit to the diocesan seminary, he signed the guest book “Do not be clerics of the State”.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador — an opponent of many politicians who are friends of Bishop Cepeda — expressed his condolences for the late bishop during his Feb. 1 press conference.