Skip to main content

Notebook Religion

Killing creeds

Sept. 21 funeral of José Alfredo Juárez de la Cruz (Associated Press/Photo by Marco Ugarte)


Killing creeds

Murder in Mexico targets the devout while criminals claim religion

The murders of three priests in two Mexican states this September highlight the tortured relationship between organized crime and religion. Alejo Nabor Jiménez Juárez and José Alfredo Juárez de la Cruz: kidnapped and murdered in Veracruz. José Alfredo Lopez Guillen: kidnapped on Sept. 19 and found dead in Michoacán five days later.

Criminals have murdered a dozen more priests in Mexico since 2012, according to the Catholic Multimedia Center. In its most recent International Religious Freedom Report, the U.S. Department of State identified “concerns regarding the deaths of Catholic priests, threats against Catholic nuns, and reported abuses toward evangelical Christians.”

But Mexican criminals embrace religion, too, in both conventional and unconventional ways. A plaque at a chapel in Pachuca, in the Mexican state of Hidalgo, recognized the financial support of Heriberto Lazcano, the now-deceased leader of the Zetas, an infamous drug cartel. “The chapel put the entire church in Mexico on alert” about such ties, said Hugo Valdemar, the spokesman for the Mexico City archdiocese, according to The New York Times.

One former cartel in Michoacán, La Familia Michoacana, believed it was doing God’s work, distributing Bibles and giving money to the poor, according to a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration fact sheet. A successor organization to Familia Michoacana made its religious attitudes explicit, calling itself Los Caballeros Templarios, or the Knights Templar.

Traffickers even want some kind of religion in death. Some spend millions of pesos on tombs replete with living rooms, bedrooms, and bathrooms—and also air conditioning and Wi-Fi, the Mexican newspaper Milenio reported.

The state of Veracruz, stretching along Mexico’s eastern shore, and Michoacán, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently called “the world leader in avocado production,” have also faced major political scandals this year, showing that violence and corruption don’t require a religious veneer.

The newspaper La Jornada reported that police arrested the mayor of Álvaro Obregón, a town in Michoacán, on kidnapping and assassination charges. The state governor for Veracruz, Javier Duarte, resigned on Oct. 12 in the face of 53 criminal allegations, and Duarte’s current whereabouts are unknown: El País reported he might have fled the country after a judge issued a warrant for his arrest.

Delayed justice

A Turkish court on Sept. 28 sentenced five men to three aggravated life sentences each for the premeditated murder of three Christians. The court handed down shorter sentences to two additional defendants and found over a dozen other suspects not guilty. The verdict offered good news to the Christian community in this majority Muslim country. The three victims—a German and two Turks—were tortured and killed at Zirve Publishing House, a Christian publisher, in 2007.

İhsan Özbek, a Protestant pastor, expressed disappointment that the convicted murderers were not immediately imprisoned. Because the case has been going on for so long—this was its 115th hearing—the suspects had been detained longer than Turkish law allows. They were set free in 2014, wearing ankle bracelets, and have not been rearrested since their convictions as they appeal the case. In a statement, translated by Middle East Concern, Özbek said, “This process can take years, and the killers of our brothers brutally murdered can move around freely for years to come. The repeated postponement of the punishment they deserve severely wounds confidence in justice.” —J.B.