Can Meetings Between Priests and Criminals Help Reduce Violence in Mexico?

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Recent meetings between a bishop and criminal groups in Mexico are seeking a solution to violence against religious leaders. However, it remains to be seen if the Catholic Church is willing to take a more active role in this mediation between civil society and criminals.

Salvador Rangel Mendoza, bishop of Chilpancingo-Chilapa in the Mexican state of Guerrero, told Radio Fórmula that he saw the need to to meet with some leaders of criminal groups that operate in the state in the wake of threats that some priests were receiving. 

“When I saw that some priests had been threatened, one very seriously, I decided to go see these people and talk to them,” the bishop told Radio Fórmula. “It pays to engage in dialogue, see faces, hear their reasons for acting the way they do, because Guerrero is almost entirely in the hands of drug traffickers.” 

Rangel Mendoza acknowledged that the church had already managed to enter into talks with almost all the criminal groups operating in Guerrero. Earlier this week, the bishop also expressed his willingness to act as a mediator in the event that the government decides to seek a dialogue with organized crime groups. 

Benito Cuenca Mayo, a spokesman for the diocese, told Aciprensa that “thanks to these meetings [Rangel Mendoza] has had with them, it is possible that they won’t continue to give these death threats” to some priests. 

InSight Crime Analysis 

The state’s inability to deal with organized crime in Guerrero calls into question who can act as a mediator between criminal groups and civil society. In some countries in the region, such as El Salvador, the church has come to assume this role. It remains to be seen whether the same thing will happen in Mexico, especially in communities where the church has a strong presence. 

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Religious representatives have the ability to express the discontent of communities that would otherwise receive little attention. But throughout its history, the Catholic Church in Mexico has been characterized more by its timidity than by its activism. 

However, there are some examples of religious leaders who have raised their voices in the midst of violence. In 2013, a group of bishops in the state of Michoacán spoke out against the control exercised by the Knights Templar in the Tierra Caliente region, and also criticized government corruption. In the state of Oaxaca, Father Alejandro Solalinde has been dedicated to helping migrants who are in danger of becoming victims of criminal groups. 

During a visit to the country in 2016, Pope Francis called attention to the issue when he preached against the bad influences of organized crime. He also prayed in front of the tomb of Samuel Ruíz García, a deceased bishop and proponent of liberation theology, a doctrine that emphasized the human mission of the church as promoting more equality in society.

Rangel Mendoza’s efforts, however, seem to be more focused on curbing violence toward priests. There is little evidence to suggest that the Catholic Church in Mexico as an institution wants to enter such dangerous terrain and act as the mediators of the conflict.

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