Pope’s visit to Mexico refocuses attention on narco-church relations
Father Erasmo Dorantes doesn’t like talking about the new modernist church with a 20-metre high metal cross within his parish in a working-class barrio of the central Mexican city of Pachuca.
“All I do is say mass there every Sunday,” he says. “What’s done is done and I don’t have relations with those people.”
Those people are the Zetas drug cartel, or more specifically the group’s leader, Heriberto Lazcano. Photographs of a plaque thanking the kingpin for building the church caused a scandal when they were published in a national newspaper in October 2010.
The scandal has faded but the plaque remains – an uncomfortable reminder of the influence of the drugs culture in the Mexican Catholic church that Pope Benedict XVI called on the country’s bishops to eradicate shortly after he was elected in 2005. As they prepare for his first visit to Mexico, beginning on Friday, the bishops are keen to play down the issue.
“The warnings from the pope were clear,” said Monseñor René Rodríguez, secretary general of the Mexican Episcopal Conference, before adding that constant vigilance meant narco donations were now a minor problem. But while he insisted that priests reported all suspicious donations to their dioceses, which are then reported to the federal government, he also said he did not know how how often this had happened.
A criminal investigation into the Pachuca church was opened, but a source in the attorney general’s office said it failed to find hard evidence that illicit money was used. The benefactor simply sent along workers to build it, leaving no financial transactions to trace. The source said there had been no further investigations. [More]