By MARK LORENZANA
The spokesman for the archdiocese of Guadalajara, Antonio Gutiérrez Montaño, said on Wednesday, June 29, in an interview with Mexican daily El Universal that extortion racketeering by organized-crime groups in Mexico have already reached the Catholic Church’s doorstep, specifically in the western Mexican state of Jalisco.
“We cannot speak openly of this, or give out more details, but they (the crime groups) ask for 50 percent in profit, in exchange for providing ‘protection,’” said Gutiérrez. “We do know that federal and municipal authorities are afraid to go against these groups. The police are outnumbered in terms of personnel, outgunned in terms of weapons.”
“There is no other way for us but to pay,” Gutiérrez said. “I do not want to say specifically which parishes are victims of extortion, for the safety of the priests themselves.”
On Sunday, June 26, Cardinal Francisco Robles Ortega of Guadalajara also disclosed that some parishes in the north of Jalisco, bordering the neighboring state of Zacatecas, need to request permission from the cartel to hold patron-saint festivities.
Political analyst Maite Azuela, who was also interviewed by El Universal, believes that organized crime in Mexico is becoming more and more sophisticated.
“These crime groups have been improving the way they operate,” said Azuela. “It seems that they are very clear: they control the territory, they control everything.”
“The authorities have been abandoning their obligations,” Azuela said.
For his part, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) denied any knowledge of the alleged extortion of Catholic parishes.
“I didn’t know (about the churches). You have to be careful because it may not be true, it may not be a widespread issue,” López Obrador said on the morning of Thursday, June 30, at his daily press conference.
“It’s the first time I’ve heard of it. You have to understand that just because these are members of the clergy, who think they are infallible, we are not immediately going to investigate their allegations.”
In the same press conference, López Obrador said that priests who had been criticizing the country’s security strategy are “hypocrites.”
Jesuits have called Mexico a failed state after two of its clergy were murdered on June 20 in a parish in Chihuahua, and called on citizens to pressure the AMLO administration to put an end to the violence.
“These priests are saying, ‘hugs are not enough for us.’ What do they want then?” López Obrador said. “Do they want us to go to war? Do they want us to kill everyone? Why the hypocrisy?”
Speaking on the alleged extortion of parishes by organized-crime groups, columnist Juan Pablo Becerra-Acosta believes that it is one of the worst crimes that can harm the country, but that it can also be “fought intelligently.”
“This is a crime that can be fought intelligently because there are faces. There are individuals behind these crimes. These are individuals that the government can arrest and charge,” Becerra-Acosta said.