Mexican priest kidnapped, found alive with signs of torture

IMAGE: CNS photo/Oscar Martinez, Reuters

By David Agren

outspoken priest who had been reported missing in the state of Veracruz was
found alive, but with signs of torture.

Father Jose Luis Sanchez Ruiz,
pastor of Twelve Apostles parish in Catemaco — a town known for witchcraft,
some 340 miles southeast of Mexico City — was reported missing Nov. 11, sparking
unrest and the ransacking and burning of the city hall by residents impatient
with the police response.

A statement from the Diocese of
San Andres Tuxtla said Father Sanchez was found “abandoned” Nov. 13 “with
notable signs of torture.”

Father Aaron
Reyes Natividad, diocesan spokesman, told local media that Father Sanchez had received threats via
WhatsApp and Facebook, while the doors to the church also appear to have been
opened with force. He denounced crime and corruption in Veracruz — where a
former governor is currently on the lam for funneling millions of dollars of
state money into shell companies — and also rallied residents against high electric

“He was nervous, but
nothing stopped him,” Father Reyes told Veracruz news organization

“We think that a lot of
what happened has to do with what the padre said in his sermons,” Father
Reyes said. “He gave the names of those responsible for insecurity,
stealing from the community and generating poverty.”

The abduction and torture of
Father Sanchez marked another case of clergy coming under attack in Mexico,
where at least 15 priests have been murdered in the past four years, according
to the Centro Catolico Multimedial. Many of the investigations in the killings
have left church officials unhappy, but were reflective of a country in which nearly
94 percent of crimes go unreported or uninvestigated, according to a survey by
the state statistics service.

In Veracruz, which hugs the
country’s Gulf Coast, Fathers Alejo Jimenez and Jose Juarez were kidnapped and
killed in September in the city of Poza Rica. Authorities said the priests had
been drinking with their attackers prior to falling victim, a version rejected
by church officials.

Another priest, Father Jose
Alfredo Lopez Guillen, was kidnapped and killed in the western state of
Michoacan less than a week later. The Michoacan government initially released
video footage purportedly showing him in a hotel with a teenage boy, but the
family and church officials disputed the claims, forcing a retraction.

Church officials are at a loss
to explain the attacks against them, though nearly 150,000 people have died
since the country started cracking down on drug cartels and organized crime a
decade ago. Priests in rough areas — such as Veracruz — have fallen victim to
crimes, and it’s thought the motives for some of the murders include the
nonpayment of extortion, robbery and pastors not allowing those in the drug
trade to serve as godparents in baptisms.

“The aggressors have lost
their respect for God and lost respect for priests, too,” said Father
Alejandro Solalinde, an activist priest in southern Mexico on issues of
migration and the target of threats from organized crime.

“This priest (in Veracruz)
will not return the same,” Father Solalinde said. “He’s going to live
in fear, going to live with the effects of this trauma.”

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