Mexico may have freedom of religion codified into law, and it may have an almost exclusively Catholic population, but that doesn’t mean that the country is safe for priests and other Catholics in lives of religious service. That’s because the country also has violent drug cartels, and these criminal gangs will murder anyone who they perceive to be a threat, whether they’re journalists, politicians, or priests.
As A&E TV reports, between 2005 and 2021, Mexican drug cartels murdered at least 47 pastoral workers — which is to say, priests, nuns, and similar workers. Father Sergio Omar Sotelo Aguilar, director of Mexico’s Catholic Multimedia Center, says that there are two reasons for this. The first is that these men and women, by their very nature, stand against the crime, violence, and graft that the cartels stand for. And if they’re perceived as being a threat, the cartels won’t hesitate to murder them. Second, some gang members falsely believe that Catholic churches and other buildings are actually hiding treasure and will kill to get to it.
Father Aguilar says that attacks against priests in Mexico are attacks against Catholicism in that country. “When you murder a priest, you’re not just murdering a person. You’re also pummeling an institution that stabilizes an entire community,” he said.