A dozen priests have been murdered in Mexico since December 2006, the Catholic Multimedia Center, or CCM, said Wednesday.
The comparable figure for December 2000 to December 2006 was four.
Mexico accounts for 15 percent of killings of clergy in Latin America, well behind Colombia – with 40 percent of the total – and just ahead of Brazil, with 10 percent, the CCM said.
The spike in slayings of priests appears to be linked to the activity of organized crime and corrupt local political bosses, according to the CCM report.
The most dangerous jurisdictions for priests are Mexico City and the states of Chihuahua, which accounted for roughly a third of Mexico’s 15,000-plus drug-war deaths in 2010, and Guerrero, a largely poor, rural region where narcotics is one of the few dynamic sectors of the economy.
Attacks on priests inside their churches have markedly increased in the last 18 months, the CCM says, while a thousand clergymen were targeted by extortionists in 2010 and 162 received death threats.
Mexico’s Catholic bishops conference has authorized parish priests in particularly dangerous areas to suspend Masses if they deem it too risky to hold services.
Criminals running protection rackets are demanding as much as 10,000 pesos ($830) from priests to ensure their safety, one prelate said last year.
Hoping to curb the violence, the Catholic hierarchy threatens drug traffickers and kidnappers with excommunication, even as individual churches continue to accept “narco-charity” donations from kingpins.
In strongly Catholic Mexico, drug lords and other mobsters cultivate the appearance of piety and some even erect chapels to the underworld’s “patron saint,” possibly mythical bandit Jesus Malverde.
One high-ranking capo, Miguel Angel Beraza Villa of the La Familia Michoacana cartel, was arrested while attending a religious service.