The priesthood has joined journalism as one of the most dangerous occupations in Mexico, according to a report by the Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
The report, “Neopersecución de Sacerdotes en México” (Neo-Persecution of Priests in Mexico) by the Catholic Multimedia Center (CCM), affiliated with the Bishops’ Conference, says that 15 Catholics have been murdered since 1993, including a cardinal, 11 priests, and three members of religious orders.
In addition, at least seven bishops and 120 priests have received death threats from drug trafficking groups this year, the report says.
“The Vatican is aware of the situation of the clergy in Mexico,” as the Catholic hierarchy in this country has informed Rome of the facts, Omar Sotelo, in charge of the CCM, told IPS.
According to the document, two out of 10 parish priests are targets of intimidation from anti-Catholic political or intellectual groups, the police or organized crime, making Mexico the second country in Latin America, after Colombia, for harassment of priests and lay workers.
The most dangerous areas for church workers are the southern states of Guerrero, Chiapas and Oaxaca, the southwestern state of Michoacán, the border zone with the United States in the state of Chihuahua, the southeastern port of Veracruz and the Mexican capital.
“There are two constant features about the threats made against priests. They arise, on the one hand, when the clergy preach sermons against drug trafficking, and on the other, when parish priests support community protests, touching power groups like the drug bosses,” José Suárez, the head of the non-governmental Ecclesiastical Observatory (OE) which maintains a watch on issues related to the Catholic Church in Mexico, told IPS.
The latest crimes are the murders of Habacuc Hernández, a priest, and two young seminarians, Eduardo Oregón and Silvestre González, who were killed June 13 by a group of armed men in a municipality in Guerrero, 350 kilometers from Mexico City.
After taking office in December 2006, conservative President Felipe Calderón deployed thousands of soldiers around the country to fight drug trafficking. Since then, drug-related murders have soared, leaving 6,200 people dead in 2008, up from around 2,700 in 2007.
There are more than 100 Roman Catholic bishops and 16,000 priests in Mexico.
The highest-profile assassination was that of Cardinal Juan Posadas, murdered in May 1993 at the airport in the northwestern city of Guadalajara. According to the official hypothesis, the hitmen mistook him for druglord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, head of the Sinaloa Cartel, who is wanted by the authorities in Mexico and the U.S.
But the report also refers to a possible attempt at poisoning Posadas’ successor, Cardinal Juan Sandoval, who became ill after drinking a glass of tequila at a dinner in Mexico City. As a result, Sandoval underwent an operation to remove part of his intestine.
The Archbishop of Durango, Héctor González, said in April that “El Chapo” lives near the small town of Guanacevi, in the northern state of Durango, some 1,200 kilometers from Mexico City.
“Beyond Guanacevi, that’s where ‘El Chapo’ lives. Everyone but the authorities know that,” the archbishop said at the time.
In August, Mexican troops discovered a 224-hectare complex in Durango, equipped with dormitories, kitchens, a laundry, a sickbay, warehouses and laboratories for making illegal synthetic drugs and processing marijuana, presumed to belong to Guzmán.
As with the violence against journalists, impunity is the common denominator in the attacks on bishops, priests and lay workers.
“Many cases are still under investigation and remain unsolved,” Sotelo stressed.
Suárez, for his part, said “the problem with the state is its neglect of this kind of denunciations, which is not only due to lack of political will” or for the purpose of denying the growth of organized crime.
The problem is so overwhelming that the main theme of the Mexican Bishops’ Conference in November will be the state of insecurity, crime and violence in the country.
Editor’s note: PC(USA) mission workers serving in Mexico are the Rev. Mark Adams, David Diercksen, Susanne Frerichs, Chris McReynolds, Amy Robinson, Bill Soldwisch, David and Susan Thomas and the Rev. Don and Martha Wehmeyer. For information about and letters from PC(USA mission workers around the world, visit the Mission Connections Web site. — Jerry L. Van Marter