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CURRENT ISSUE:  November 8, 2010
VOL. 48, NO. 19   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page story
Outraged church leaders urge more protection for Iraq Christians
Mexican officials probe
drug alms to churches

MEXICO CITY (CNS) — Catholic and federal officials have launched investigations into the possibility that a priest accepted donations from a drug cartel boss to build a new chapel in a marginalized neighborhood near Pachuca, north of Mexico City.

The Archdiocese of Mexico City spokesman, Father Hugo Valdemar Romero, told local media Nov. 1 that investigations were under way and that the Church would not tolerate anyone accepting donations known as “narcolimosnas,” or drug alms.

The Archdiocese of Mexico City rebuked the expansive reach of the drug trade into all segments of Mexican society, while acknowledging in the same Oct. 31 editorial that some in the Church had knowingly accepted the proceeds of an illegal enterprise responsible for the loss of more than 28,000 lives over the past four years.

The editorial, published in the archdiocesan periodical Desde La Fe, acknowledged that drug money has built and renovated parishes and paid for activities such as patron saint festivities in Mexican towns.

“To the embarrassment of some Catholic communities, there are suspicions that benefactors, (associated) with narcotics trafficking, have helped with money from the dirtiest and bloodiest business, in the construction of some chapels, which is immoral and doubly condemnable,” the editorial said.

“Nothing justifies that this situation could be accepted,” it said.

The editorial came as the scandal near Pachuca, capital of Hidalgo state, generated negative headlines.

A plaque at Our Lady of the Lakes Chapel near Pachuca recognizes the generosity of Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, regional boss of Los Zetas, a cartel notorious for gratuitous violence and implicated in the August massacre of 72 undocumented migrants. The newspaper La Razon reported the plaque at the chapel reads: “John Paul II Catechesis Evangelization Center, donated by Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano.”

The Archdiocese of Tulancingo released a statement Oct. 20 saying it was surprised by the news that the unnamed priest responsible for the chapel did not know the benefactor and that an investigation was under way.

“No one doubts the good reputation of donors until the opposite is shown,” said the statement signed by the vicar general, Msgr. Jose Castilla Sosa. “We know that this act is not justified because the church doesn’t approve of this type of conduct that hurts us and creates confusion among the faithful and the population at large.”

Attempts to reach the Tulancingo Archdiocese and the Mexican bishops’ conference were unsuccessful because of a public holiday.

Father Manuel Corral, bishops’ conference spokesman, told reporters in late October that the chapel was built without permission from Archbishop Domingo Diaz Martinez of Tulancingo.

The church has long denied accepting money from drug sources, but convincing a skeptical public has been difficult — especially as some prelates have spoken differently on the topic.

The late Bishop Ramon Godinez Flores of Aguascalientes stirred controversy in 2005 when he said, “All money can be transformed just as a corrupted person can also be transformed.”

The donation scandal threatened to blacken the reputation of the Church, which consistently ranks near the top of public opinion surveys listing the country’s most trusted institutions. It also failed to surprise some Church observers.

“What’s coming out is something the whole world already knew,” said Victor Ramos Cortes, religious studies professor at the University of Guadalajara, citing a common cynicism among Mexicans in areas with histories of drug problems.

Ramos explained that cartel kingpins are often “very religious” and many priests in remote areas with drug problems are powerless to confront these criminals, who are often the main local benefactors and de facto authorities.

In late October, Mexico suffered though a wave of slayings in four cities that claimed more than 40 young people and provoked strong questions about the consequences of the federal government taking on well-armed and increasingly ruthless drug cartels.

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