Reporting on the Mexican Cartel Drug War

Mexican priests face death, extortion from drug cartels

Saturday, October 8, 2011 |


Columban Father Kevin Mullins, pastor of Corpus Christi Church outside of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, points to the open field behind his church Sept. 16 where he hopes to build a youth center to prevent the young in his parish from being attracted to the lure of the cartels. Two of his former confirmation class students were stoned to death in this field

Written by Joseph Kolb
Catholic News Service


Ministering in a city where crime is pervasive and murders occur at an alarming rate, Columban Father Kevin Mullins knows he's been very fortunate.

While he has personally escaped the violence, the Australian-born priest has been touched by it through the lives of his parishioners at Corpus Christi Church in the poor neighbourhood of Puerto de Anapra.

During Advent 2008, though, there was a time when parishioners and fellow priests were praying for his soul, thinking he had been killed during an attack by drug cartel gunmen.

"I have been quite lucky," Mullins said in a thick Australian accent. "It was actually an Anglican minister who had a heart attack and was found in his car a few blocks away from my house."

In Mexico, the sight of a priest slumped over in a car is not all that unusual. In 2005, Fr. Luis Velasquez Romero was found in his vehicle in Tijuana, handcuffed and shot six times. In 2009 a priest and two seminarians were gunned down in their car, dragged out then shot again because a relative of one of the seminarians was believed to be associated with one of the country's notorious drug cartels.

Since Mexican President Felipe Calderon declared war against the cartels in 2006 more than 40,000 people have been killed, including 12 priests. A survey from the Catholic Media Centre in Mexico found that in 2010 more than 1,000 priests were extorted, 162 threatened with death and two kidnapped and killed.

Prior to Calderon's aggressive action, three priests had been killed in the preceding decade. The rise in clergy deaths represents part of the cartels' response to the growing pressure exerted on them by both Mexico and the United States.

Msgr. Rene Blanco Vega, vicar general of the Ciudad Juarez diocese, declined to discuss the number of priests and parishes in the diocese, saying he did not want to provide the cartels with information they could use to extort money.

"We don't have that problem and we don't want it," said Blanco, who adamantly denied the cartels have any influence on the Church in his diocese.



Fr. Oscar Enriquez, director of the Paso del Norte Human Rights Centre in Cuidad Juarez, said he has not observed any direct attempts by cartels to extort money specifically from churches, but that he has seen instances where priests have been attacked. Ironically, Enriquez's office was ransacked by Mexican federal police after he accused some in their ranks of corruption.

"I see funeral homes, restaurants and businesses as the prime targets of extortion here," he said.

Mullins, who has ministered in Cuidad Juarez for 11 years, said he has heard of incidents where other priests have been approached to pay an extortion fee, but that the transition of the city's population has made it difficult for criminals to benefit. Most of the city's wealthy residents have fled the violence by moving to nearby El Paso, Texas. The exodus of wealth has left the once-vibrant Ciudad Juarez shopping and manufacturing districts ghost towns with a tenuous middle class and an overwhelming level of poverty.

"Being the poorest parish in Ciudad Juarez has had its advantages," Mullins said, noting that the average collection from three Sunday Masses is $150. "We have not had any extortion attempts because we just don't have any money to give."

Enriquez said the economic pressures in Puerta de Anapra — in clear site of the U.S. border — affect all facets of life. His biggest struggles are keeping parishioners fed, housed and out of the gangs where easy money beckons despite the threat of death.

"We're not pounding the pulpit denouncing any one group or person despite knowing who they are; we are making blanket pleas to our parishioners to stay away from the criminal elements," Mullins said. "Prudence can keep your head on your shoulders."

Mullins estimated that 50-60 gang-related executions have occurred in his parish in the last three years. Men ages 15-30 have been the primary targets. The priest has presided at tense funeral Masses hoping there would be no retribution from rival gangs.

"We don't go to the cemeteries any more for services, it's just too dangerous," he said.

What perplexes many pastors are the offers of financial support from the cartels. For decades parishes received donations of money and buildings from cartel officials with an attitude of resigned ignorance, without having to face a moral dilemma.

Blanco maintained, however, that "it has never happened here where a church in Juarez has taken money from the cartels."

Earlier this year, eyebrows were raised but no voices of dissension were heard when a church in Hidalgo state revealed a plaque dedicated to Herberto Lazcano Lazcano, the leader of the notorious Los Zetas drug cartel implicated in several mass murders in northeastern Mexico, who contributed generously to the building. Lazcano reportedly was killed in a firefight in Matamoros in June, but neither Mexican nor American officials have confirmed his death.

"About three months ago, I had a woman associated with the Juarez cartel approach me offering an open chequebook to build our youth centre," Mullins said. "Of course, I kindly declined her offer."

He turned down the offer despite wanting to build a youth centre and basketball courts on a nearby debris-filled lot where two teens from a confirmation class at his parish were stoned to death a few years ago.

Mullins has had cartel members attend Mass and, much to his relief, all declined to receive Communion, so he did not have to turn them away. If someone involved in a criminal enterprise did seek to receive Communion, Mullins said, he would take a deep breath and give the person a blessing instead.

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20 Borderland Beat Comments:

Anonymous said...

Anyone with any sense would get out of Mexico...

Anonymous said...

Forget about the cartels its all going to be ok because this guy is going to build a youth centre.

Jesus the Moose said...

Wow, that's a good priest. Declining communion could be risky, especially to folks that have atrophy of conscience. GB the Columban Fathers, they are mission priests known for going around the world to forsaken places and seeking out forsaken people.

Anonymous said...

A very brave man. A good example to follow. God Bless

Anonymous said...

Yes indeed the good father is a good example. Youth centers have always been great. We have some here in ELA. They've probably kept 8 or 10 vatos out of crime.

Now then, what exactly has the Catholic Church done to help the Mexican people in their hour of need? It took that crazy fucker Hidalgo to get 'em riled up against Spain but the Church kicked him out. The local padres knew Zapata was going to his death but they were on the hacendado's side. They got the faithful to resist the resrtrictions started by Elias Calles but, as always, Rome stayed out of it so the Cristeros ended up dead. The Church quietly collaborated with the PRI for 70 years. Then the narcos got ugly. What have the padres done besides pray a lot and comfort the bereaved?

Anonymous said...

Australians have giant balls, for sure. But he needs to take an look at all the inner-cities in the US that thought they could stop the gang violence by creating youth centers. Night time basketball games, pool tables, and 'high fives' do nothing. Nothing. Not one of these youth centers have stopped any gangs in their tracks. The money spent vs. number of kids who 'changed their ways' is a giant waste. Might as well take that money, pick out two or three kids who would be successful REGARDLESS, and send them to small town Utah where they would go to college and be normal citizens like the rest of the towns people.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why cartel members can't have communion

Anonymous said...

narco communion

Jesus the Moose said...

@10:05
I don't particularly find myself a fan of Hidalgo, Matamoros, Kino, or Juarez. My understanding of Mexican history is wanting but I understand that they were French Freemasons. I have a particular hatred of Calles who martyred one of my favorite saints, Miguel Pro.

As far as the Catholic Church and the PRI getting along -- that's a stretch. Enemies with a grudging respect is closer to the truth in my view.

What has the church done? Its mission is redemption. Besides that, various orders and diocese run shelters and drug rehabs which these days is a dangerous business.

efsa said...

The Catholic Church in Mexico needs to start preaching the Catholic duty to defend oneself and the natural right to own and use the means for that defense.

Jesus the Moose said...

@efsa
Any churches mission is primarily spiritual. Any pronouncements from the pulpit in Mexico that can be construed as political are deeply penalized by Mexico's french inspired legal code to include massive fines (I don't know if jail is part of the penalties ). Considering the government is full of French Rite Masons, any church would tread with caution.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't 'Guadalupe' mean 'the one who crushes the serpent' (see on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Lady_of_Guadalupe near the beginning)? Do Mexicans really believe Our Lady can do that for them, that is, destroy the cartels?

Here is what She did together with those who proved they believed She can crush the serpent and what has never been explained by any historian whatsoever: http://www.world-prayer-for-life.org/pg026.html .

It's free of charge, it's bloodless and everyone can participate. Will you abstain and thus be guilty of complicity in the sins crying for vengeance?

Pray only the 3 and never the 4th! "They that trust in Him shall understand the truth ... for grace and peace are to his elect. ... For he that rejects wisdom, and discipline, is unhappy: and their hope is vain, and their labors without fruit, and their works unprofitable." (Wisdom 3:9,11).

Anonymous said...

Well Jesus the deal is separation of church and state. The church runs the church but not the state. That doesn't prevent the church from influencing it's followers against those who murder, kidnap and extort them. Activist Catholic priests in CA have not had a problem inciting people against the US who they saw as the enemy of the people. So why do Mexican priests have so little to say against the cartels?

Jesus the Moose said...

For the most part, personal safety for clergy isn't an issue in California; in Mexico safety for those who tread on the controversial, it is. Something as easy as denying communion can be dangerous if you consider that a sicario would kill you because you accidentally bumped him in the market.

Anonymous said...

Jesus - CA = Central America, not California.

The church's mission is whatever the church wants it to be. The Catholic Church still has huge power and influence in Mexico. But they cower in the face of the criminals while the faithful are butchered. They only challenge those they know will not harm them. So what good are they?

Jesus the Moose said...

Do you know how long it takes to develop a priest? At least 12 years. Let the cops do their jobs. Priests are needed for a variety of reasons. It would also depend on their bishop how much they can speak out.

A little history, Pius xii was reviled for staying quiet during the holocaust but he saved many jews by hiding them in monasteries and such or getting them fake travel documents so they could escape. Yes, that enterprise was dangerous considering that he could have riled up two fascist regimes.

And again, any churches' mission is redemption. Its realm is spiritual not temporal.

Anonymous said...

A little history, activist Catholic priests worked in Central America to defeat US efforts to defeat leftist/communist governments. Under the guise of saving souls. So why can't they work against the narco/criminal elements in Mexico?

Why is a church's mission limited? To say the church's "realm" is only spiritual is an excuse to avoid involvement with the people the church claims as it's own.

It would depend on their bishop? Right away you cop out. Oh, we'll have to ask the bishop if we can come out and play. Bullshit. I say get useful or get out.

Again, what use is the church to the Catholic people of Mexico other than to sell them the same old shit about The Virgin Of Guadalupe, etc., etc.

What if the bishop publicly excommunicated all drug dealers and sicarios?

Ardent said...

Annonymous 11:15, you should be a history teacher NOT. Some courageous Catholic priests opposed US supported death squads in Central America and you are so silly as to oppose that???? What goes through the heads of you Right Wing thugs anyway?

Should the priests have just sat back and said nothing about the criminality that you supported for these Central American countries? I think they should not! The Catholic Church may be messed up in many many ways, but not in the manner you say that they are. You would have them all blessing the death squad leaders as they committed their genocides in the Guatemalan Highlands and in El Salvador. Sick.

Anonymous said...

ardent you just refuse to get it so shut the fuck up and butt out. You can neither make a point of your own nor understand anyone else's. Any other BB poster I would be glad to stop and discuss. You do not understand. You never will understand - dry up.

Anonymous said...

catholic priests have a craving for young boys...& they get the popes forgiveness!!

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