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Mexico drug violence also hitting churches, prelate says

From Krupskaia Alis, CNN
  • Priests are being threatened, extorted and abused by drug traffickers, monsignor says
  • Some priests have even been killed, said Monsignor Victor Rene Rodriguez
  • In Ciudad Juarez, more than 100 priests have reported threats and extortion
  • Evangelical churches also are being targeted

Mexico City, Mexico (CNN) -- As one of the highest officials in the Mexican Catholic Church, Monsignor Victor Rene Rodriguez has been receiving the alarming reports from all over the nation.

His priests are telling him they are being constantly threatened, extorted and abused by drug traffickers.

"Sometimes threats don't materialize," Rodriguez said. "But in cases where priests haven't obeyed the drug traffickers' demands, churches have been damaged, priests attacked, and, in a few cases, even killed."

Monsignor Rodriguez is the secretary general of the Mexican Conference of Bishops and the Bishop of Texcoco. He says some fellow bishops have opted for canceling early evening masses to protect parishioners from the drug violence.

Rodriguez points to states like Chihuahua, the most violent in Mexico. Of the 28,000 drug-related deaths in the last four years, 40 percent have happened in this border state. In Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas, more than 100 pastors have reported threats, and extortion has become all too common.

About 90 percent of Mexico's total population of 110 million people describe themselves as Catholic. In fact, Mexico has the second largest population of Catholics in the world. But the threats are affecting evangelical churches as well.

The Rev. Jose Raul Murillo, head pastor at the Faith in Jesus Christ Apostolic Church in Juarez, says pastors are falsely accused of siding with certain gangs.

"They threaten us," he said. "They accuse us of siding with La Linea [drug gang] or La Familia [rival gang]. They also tell us, 'You have to cooperate with us or we will kill you.' "

Monsignor Rodriguez also says priests are forced to minister to drug traffickers.

"They give the orders," he said. "They say, 'We will pick you up. We need you to minister.' And there have been cases where a priest has been unable to go to perform a baptism ritual or a first communion and his church has suffered the consequences."

The families of priests are being threatened as well, Rodriguez said.

The Mexican Catholic Church has adopted several measures to minimize the risks to priests caused by drug violence. For example, priests are being asked to always wear clothing that identifies them as religious people and to restrict trips to remote areas.