MEXICO CITY (AP) — A Roman Catholic priest who had been reported kidnapped has been found dead in central Mexico, authorities said Thursday.
Prosecutors in Morelos state said a relative identified the body of Rev. Moises Fabila Reyes, 83. The Archdiocese of Mexico confirmed his death and said he served at the Basilica of Guadalupe, Mexico’s main religious pilgrimage site.
He appeared to have died of a heart attack and is the third priest killed or to have died under suspicious circumstances in Mexico in a week. A total of two dozen priests have been killed in the country since the current president took office in 2012.
“In a few days, Mexico has experienced the worst public safety crises of its modern history. Not only are young people being disappeared and killed, the dimension of this barbarity has reached all levels of society and the Church has had a “Black April,” the Catholic Multimedia Center wrote in an article. “Three priests have died in violent circumstances, raising indignation and concern among bishops across the country.”
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The Morelos state prosecutors’ office said relatives had reported Fabila Reyes’ abduction to federal anti-kidnapping prosecutors in Mexico City.
The Multimedia Center said the priest had been on vacation in the city of Cuernavaca when he was abducted April 3 and that family members paid a ransom of over $100,000. He apparently became ill and died while being held.
In the last week, a priest was shot dead on the outskirts of Guadalajara and another was stabbed to death outside Mexico City.
So far, experts and leaders in Mexico have suggested the killings are part of a broader problem of crime and values, not something directed specifically at the church.
“It is time to take a hard look at our culture and our society, to ask ourselves how we lost respect for life, for all that is sacred,” the country’s Council of Bishops wrote in a statement following the recent spate of deaths.
Religion expert Bernardo Barranco said that “there is no specific motive” in all the priests killings.
“It is a social problem, not a problem of attacks against the church,” he said.
But Barranco noted that in Mexico, church leaders have not wanted to start the kind of truth commissions or public defense offices that emerged in Brazil, Chile or El Salvador after priests were killed amid crackdowns. In part, he says, that is because church leaders don’t want to rock the boat in a country where they are significant power players.
“They haven’t wanted to act as they did in other countries, where the church gained a very large moral weight” in the fight against such crimes. “In Mexico, they haven’t wanted to take that step.”
One church leader who has not been afraid to rock the boat is Salvador Rangel, a bishop whose diocese covers the violent southern cities of Chilpancingo and Chilapa.
After two priests were killed in his diocese in February, Bishop Rangel withdrew all nuns from the city of Chilapa, but also acknowledged he had been forced to meet and dialogue with criminal leaders to ensure the safety of his district.
In an interview with local media Wednesday, Rangel defended his meetings with leaders of drug gangs who have sown terror across the southern state of Guerrero.
“If they are pointing a gun at someone, and I manage to turn that gun to another direction, I am saving a life, or more than one,” Rangel said. “I think it is worth it, if only to save the life of one person.”
“They commit terrible crimes, I agree, but if there is a slender thread of communication with them, then I think, why not believe in the goodness of people?”
This story has been corrected to show that 24 priests have been killed in Mexico since 2012, rather than 25.