Drugs, Corruption, and Violence Converging Together
Mexico has become the most dangerous place to be a priest. Three priests have been killed this past week in Mexico. This makes 23 murders since 2012. This is especially disturbing since 81 percent of the population is Catholic. What is causing this spike in murders?
Violence in the country is not new. Since the Mexican government began to use the military against drug cartels in 2006 there have been over 150,000 people killed. Last year alone over 29,000 homicides were on record, but there are probably many more that went unreported. That is the same number as war-torn countries like Yemen or Syria.
The Catholic Church in Mexico was never immune to violence. In 1993, Cardinal Posadas was murdered by assassins. While it was claimed to be mistaken identity, the cardinal had been outspoken against drug cartels that control areas of the country, have armies of killers, and have bank accounts that rival the GDP of some countries.
But the Catholic Church has a complicated relationship with the cartels. The narcos give millions of dollars to churches for buildings, public events, or activities. These “narco alms” are accepted with a blind eye by many priests. In fact, Pope Francis and members of the Vatican have come to Mexico to admonish bishops for not only ignoring violence but of corruption allegations.
Which is the divide in the Catholic Church in Mexico. Priests are seen fighting against violence and working with the lower classes. Bishops have been linked to corrupt government officials and crime bosses. In fact, some experts in the country believe that is the reason why Mexican bishops have been focusing on social issues like gay marriage, rather than calling out the Mexican government or criminal violence.
The violence is a reaction to priests speaking out against both the Mexican government and the drug cartels for the escalating bloodshed. Both corrupt officials and drug cartels have no limitations in killing anyone that is a publicity threat. Hackers, journalists, and now priests have all become casualties in the drug war. Even if drug cartel soldiers come to church for blessings, it does not stop some priests from wearing bulletproof vests at mass because of death threats.
The new violence has caused the entire church hierarchy to demand peace in Mexico and justice for the slain priests. While the church is unified at this particular moment, it remains to be seen if the endless violence will either stop or will create further rifts in the organization in Mexico.