Mexican bishop meets gang leaders to protect threatened priests
CHILPANCINGO — A bishop in Mexico’s Guerrero state, which suffers the most from drug- and gang-related violence, recently met with gang leaders in order to protect priests who were receiving death threats.
Bishop Salvador Rangel Mendoza of Chilpancingo-Chilapa told Radio Fórmula March 27 that since he came to the diocese in June 2015 his great concern has been to “promote peace, harmony, dialogue.”
“When I saw that some priests had been threatened by them, including one quite seriously, I took up the task of going to go see these people (the gang leaders) and talking with them,” he said.
Bishop Rangel related that he made the contact through third persons, and in his meetings he told the leaders of these gangs that “with the death (of a priest) we’re not going to be able to settle anything,” and that the situation in Guerrero will only deteriorate.
“As a bishop I must seek dialogue and peace,” he said.
He clarified that he has not met with all the violent groups present in the area and that there is a need “to engage in dialogue.” He recalled that “almost all of Guerrero is in the hands of drug traffickers” and that the solution also involves social development of the poorest population, with whom the authorities need to get involved.
Regarding the local authorities’ request for him to provide them information on these groups, the bishop pointed out that “I’m doing my pastoral work. I’m the bishop, I’m not the prosecutor. I think it’s up to him to investigate.”
“I’m a simple instrument of dialogue, of reaching out, because it’s not my obligation to bring people in or report on people. If they have opened up with me, if they’ve been sincere with me, I have to be loyal to them,” he said.
Fr. Benito Cuenca Mayo, spokesman for the Chilpancingo-Chilapa diocese, told CNA that more than one priest “has been caught up in this situation of the lack of security” and therefore the bishop “had to reach out to some crime group to dialogue with them.”
“Thanks to those meetings for dialogue he’s had with them, it has been possible to not have these lamentable incidents of death threats against some of our brother priests,” Fr. Cuenca said.
The spokesman noted that since his arrival at Chilpancingo, one of Bishop Rangel’s main pastoral actions “was to get to know the actual situation in the diocese and slowly he became more and more advised that violence in fact was a very delicate issue to address.”
In this regard, he recalled that more that once the bishop has stated his willingness to be an intermediary between the authorities and the criminal groups to bring about peace in the area, provided that “the parties to the conflict agree”
“A lot of progress would be made in the process of pacification in this area of Guerrero, but it’s not easy, it is a very delicate issue,” Fr. Cuenca pointed out. “He is willing to be an intermediary, which he has stated more than once.”
Earlier this month, the attorney general of Guerrero, Xavier Olea, acknowledged that the crime rate has gone up in Guerrero due to organized crime.
According to the Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System, in January there were 165 murders throughout Guerrero, while in February, the number was 175, making this state the most violent in the country.