By Lucio for Borderland Beat (edited by TTAG and republished with permission)
Mexico is officially now the most dangerous place on earth for Catholic Priests. While long in the top group of most dangerous places for priests, Mexico is now its leader. For the sixth consecutive year, Mexico tops the list in murders and disappearances of Catholic priests in Latin America. What must be established, murders and kidnappings of priests receive little attention outside regional reporting hubs. It is a perplexing, how a story of dozens of priests being murdered by cartels during two administrations goes unrecognized. For example . . .
With four days remaining in 2012, in the state of Michoacán’s padre Santiago Álvarez Figueroa vanished. Although he had received dozens of death threats leading up to his disappearance, authorities were quick to discount he had fallen prey to organized crime. Instead this story was offered, “we think he was in an automobile accident.” This was reported by Jesus Reyes Garcia of the governor’s office, who later revised the version when the vehicle of the priest was not found and parishioners rejected the account.
What is known: Father Santiago, 27, had just finished celebrating Mass in the tiny town of Jacona, he entered his car and headed home to his hometown of Paredones. He called one of the nuns, advising he was on his way back home. He never arrived.
Santiago’s body was never found. He is not listed as murdered, he is with the other priests in perpetual limbo on the “disappeared” list. His Bakersfield, California, family, has no doubt he was murdered by organized crime, most likely the culprits are Caballeros Templarios.
Organized crime killings of priests are particularly brutal. The recovered bodies of priests depict odious, barbaric torture and killing. Decapitation, dismemberment, incineration, strangulation, drowning, torture and rape are the methods used against priests in additional to the “conventional” killing methods of gunshot or stabbings.
In the last months of 2013, at least five priests were taken and all presumed dead in southern Tamaulipas. Carlos Ornelas Puga was kidnapped on November 3rd He was taken at gunpoint, from a parish in the municipality of Jiménez, although he belonged to the diocese of Ciudad Victoria. The Catholic Church did not confirm this for over a week.
On November 29, 2013 priests Hipólito Villalobos Lima and Nicolas de la Cruz Martinez were executed in the parish of San Cristóbal de Ixhuatlán de Madero, Veracruz.
In December two additional priests vanished in Tamaulipas, “In recent days two other priests disappeared from Ciudad Victoria,” said the church source who asked to remain anonymous. The murdered victim was identified as Guillermo Amaro Caésar, who died from a beating by suspected members of organized crime using bats. However, state authorities downplayed version, says the priest was victim of an “assault.”
Bishop José Flores Preciado, in the Temple of Christ del Rey, in the city of Colima, Colima was also “lost” in 2013. The 83 year old was beaten to death. The day after the killing, Bishop Jose Luis Amezcua Melgoza revealed that 30 of the of the 123 priests of Colima had been the victims of attempted extortion, including himself.
Father Ignacio Cortés Álvarez, “Nachito” was the priest in charge of the parish, “María Auxiliadora” in Ensenada, Baja California. The priest died after suffering over two dozen stab wounds. His killers found the priest in the rectory living room, where the murder took place.
In April of 2014, Padre John Ssenyondoof Chilapa, Guerrero disappeared while traveling back from conducting mass (service) in the mountains of Guerrero. His disappearance went almost without notice, if not for the discovery of a mass grave. The Catholic Church was quiet about the case, the regional rector of the cathedral, Javier Casarrubias Carballido, never commented on the missing Priest.
In 2014 Guerrero lost two other priests: José Ascensión Acuña Osorio and Gregorio López Gorostieta. The killing continues.
Why are priest targeted?
Long held rumors of priests ingratiating themselves towards organized crime groups for financial gain, benefiting their parishes, is persistent, but inaccurate. That would be the exception not the norm. Organized crime regards priests as the enemy. The following lists a few of the reasons why.
Sermons: outspoken priests, who preaching against organized crime, and the collusion of government officials and police. Organized crime groups prefer to remain under the radar, and feel threatened by those who may encourage an organized backlash against their activities. Same can be said about municipal governments and police.
Assisting Economic Migrants: Migrants, mostly from Central America, are highly exploited by cartels, and are at the core of narco occupational diversification. For example the sex trade, kidnapping, extortion, human trafficking, and forcible recruitment into cartel work including becoming sicarios (hitmen). Those who shelter migrants and advocate for migrant issues, interrupt business, resulting in bottom line impact. Catholic clergy are the operators of 95% of migrant shelters. They are also their greatest advocacy group, in and out of Mexico.
Who can ever forget the images of 72 migrants slaughtered in Tamaulipas in 2010? 72 human beings, executed for the crime of refusing recruitment into the Los Zetas cartel.
Throughout Mexico Catholic Priests create a safe haven for migrants. Priests provide migrants shelter, assistance, medical care and other forms of care. Cartels consider this an intrusion into their source of revenue. Priests who run the migrant shelters such as Casa Migrante’s are constantly being threatened.
Catholic based Rehab Centers: Alcohol and drug rehab centers have become fewer in number than two years ago. There were a string of attacks by cartels, resulting in the destruction of centers or mass killings of inhabitants. 19 killed in a Chihuahua rehab in photo at left. Cartels exploit the centers, extorting and forcibly recruit sicarios and drug traffickers, often death threats are realized when a rehab group resists. Others are killed for failing to pay for drugs or betraying a dealer
Supporting Autodefensa Movements: Autodefensa groups are organized as a union consisting of 13 states. Some priests are targeted because of their support of these groups, or direct involvement.
Refusing requests: In the narco world, it is notable that there are large groups of Santería followers. Although the religious based cult is syncretized with Catholicism and Mesoamerican, it is strictly condemned by the religion. Small “Santeria Chapels” are erected that seem to pop up overnight, that “honor” the Santeria offshoot Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte.
While there are millions of good people, often the marginalized people of society, which practice the “religion”, with no intention to harm others. It is organized crime that have taken it to a sinister level, thinking that Santa Muerte will protect them from harm or imprisonment while they conduct criminality, including murder.
In 2013, Tamaulipas and Veracruz priests began receiving demands that Catholic altars in churches feature statues of Santa Muerte. Going further that masses be said in honor of Santa Muerte. Parishioners say It is because of the refusals that some priests disappeared.
Extortion: Cartels treat priests/churches no differently than any other business in Mexico, they too are victims of extortion.
It must be pointed out that priests are kidnapped, often from churches or rectories, but the “disappearance” never budges from being labeled as such. It’s only counted as “killed” or “dead” if there is a body. Those kidnapped and not found are not recorded on a drug war casualty list.
In fairness, neither is any other group of people, which renders official summations weak and without merit. Nonetheless, the point being that”dozens” of priests have been killed during the Calderon-Peña Administrations.