A bishop forced to pay protection money to use his own cathedral is the latest example of why, for the eighth year running, Mexico is considered the most dangerous country to be a Catholic priest.
The Catholic Media Centre’s latest annual report says at least 15 priest have been murdered in the past three years alone, while there have been a total of 61 recorded attacks on Catholic priests in the past 26 years. Drug cartels are blamed.
In March, World Watch Monitor reported that cartels charging church leaders “taxes” is now “very common”. Dagoberto Sosa Arriaga, bishop of Tlapa in southern Mexico’s Guerrero state, is the latest example – forced to pay criminals to ensure the undisturbed use of his cathedral, as Milenio reported on 28 May. Meanwhile, another Guerrero bishop, Maximino Martínez Miranda from Ciudad Altamirano, was recently stopped by an armed group which commandeered his vehicle.
As World Watch Monitor reported in April, the violence affects everyone, but actively practising Christians are particularly vulnerable.
To address the threat to Catholic leaders in the western state of Jalisco, Bishop Salvador Rangel Mendoza has initiated a round of peace talks with leaders from the criminal world.
But another priest, Alejandro Solandine, who accused the government of having links with organised crime bosses, received death threats.
“So far this year in Mexico, the number of murders and kidnappings of Christians seems to be increasing,” said Rossana Ramirez, an analyst at the World Watch Research unit of the Christian charity Open Doors.
“There is serious ongoing persecution through organised corruption and crime. This not only affects priests, but also Christians in general; in some states, the fear of being murdered, abducted or otherwise persecuted has caused many Christians to leave. It seems that the Mexican government minimises this problem and is currently unwilling to take effective measures.”