2016 Deadliest Year for Catholic Priests in Mexico

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Mexico remains the most dangerous country in the world for Catholic priests, according to a report from the Catholic Church that calls out the government for its lack of action in the face of rising violence against religious officials. 

This year was the most deadly year for priests in Mexico since the Catholic Church started keeping count, and this is the eighth consecutive year that Mexico has been labelled the most dangerous country in the world for religious officials — a macabre trend that began soon after the launch of the militarized crackdown on drug cartels ten years ago.

Three priests were murdered this year — two in Veracruz and another in Michoacán — and the report states that four catechists were also killed. 

A total of 61 attacks occurred against church members in Mexico between 1990 and 2016, according to the report published by the Catholic Media Center (Centro Católico Mulitmedial), showing an alarming increase of 375 percent over that time period in the number of priests who have been murdered.

According to the report, “the vast majority of these cases presented a modus operandi: threats, extortion, kidnapping, torture and assassination.” The most violent areas are Guerrero and Mexico City, with eight registered attacks in each since 1990, followed by Veracruz and Michoacán with seven and six respectively.

Moreover, reported extortions rose by 70 percent this year, according to the Catholic Church, which states that although organized crime was responsible for most of these acts, members of the security forces were also reportedly involved in some cases.

Based on the data collected over the past four years, the study estimates that the violence against Catholic Chruch workers will increase by 100 percent during Enrique Peña Nieto’s presidency, rendering the current administration as the most dangerous for priests in Mexico since records began. Some 25 attacks against church officials have already been recorded during the four first years of Peña Nieto’s government. 

The report criticizes the Mexican government’s lack of response to these incidents, which it claims are increasing in part due to the criminal impunity that persists. More than 80 percent of the murders of priests have been left unresolved.

“This increasing phenomenon is the result of the Mexican government’s inability to control the overflowing violence caused by organized crime in specific areas of the country.” 

InSight Crime Analysis

Church members in Mexico — still a deeply conservative and Catholic country — hold visible and respected positions within communities, and priests have long used their role to defend human rights. They are often on the frontlines of defense between their parishes and organized crime, which puts them directly in the crosshairs.

The trends of rising violence against church officials documented by the report are symbolic of Mexico’s generally worsening security situation and the government’s apparent inability to efficiently tackle organized crime. A report published this year argued that the country’s impunity rate reached 99 percent, which explains why the murders of so many priests murders go unsolved.

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles

General levels of violence in Mexico have risen over the past decade since the launch of a militarized crackdown against organized crime. Homicides did drop during the early part of Peña Nieto’s government, but began to rise again in the middle of this year. August and September 2016 were the most violent months in Mexico since 1997. As long as the generalised climate of insecurity and high homicides in Mexico persists, it’s likely that priests will continue to be targeted.

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