Mexico Churches & Drug Wars

As Mexico's drug wars continue wreaking havoc in that country, the Catholic church is becoming a popular target. Narco bosses are donating to churches even building new ones. They buy the silence of congregations while threatening, even killing priests who resist their "charitable" acts. We explore their tactics and the church's efforts to stop them.

Part Two of The Current

Mexico Churches & Drug Wars - Franc Contreras

We started this segment with the bells of Mexico City's imposing Metropolitan Cathedral. The cathedral looms over the main square in the capital ... a constant reminder that in Mexico, the Catholic Church rules. But these days, so do the drug lords. And many worry the influence of the so-called narcos is spreading onto sacred ground.

At the centre of the controversy is a new chapel near the Mexican town of Pachuca, about 90 kilometers from Mexico City. And the reason it's so controversial is that money from the drug world paid to build it. Franc Contreras is a reporter in Mexico who has been covering the story. We reached him in Mexico City.

Mexico Churches & Drug Wars - Father Manuel Corral Martín

As Franc Contreras said, some parishoners don't believe that drug money built the church. Others simply don't care. But for many priests in Mexico, it's not so simple.

Robert Coogan is the prison Chaplain in the town of Saltillo. The Current spoke with him about his personal experience with dirty money in his prison chapel. We aired a clip.

The leadership of the Mexican Catholic Church says it is investigating the situation in Pachuca. The Current's Ellen Saenger spoke with Father Manuel Corral Martín, the executive secretary of Episcopate Public Relations for the Mexican Bishops Conference. He was not available to do an on-air interview with us in English. But he told us that the Church's policy is not to accept money from criminals. He added that it's often difficult to determine whether donations have ties to criminals or criminal organizations and told us that the Church is working on developing a more transparent donation process.

Father Martin also noted that threats to priests are very real. He said priests have been threatened and even killed, sometimes in murders that the perpetrators try to cover up as robberies.

Mexico Churches & Drug Wars - Joseph Palacios

According to a 2010 census, more than 80 percent of Mexicans are Catholic. But the history of the Catholic Church in Mexico is a complicated one. To better understand the country's relationship with the Church - and the Church's relationship with the drug world - we were joined by Joseph Palacios. He's a Catholic priest and he teaches in the Latin American Studies department of Georgetown University.

He was also recently appointed by President Barack Obama to the Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation, also known as the "School of the Americas." The school trains military from across the Americas, and Father Palacios' role is to bring a religious and human rights perspective to that military training. Joseph Palacios was in Washington, D.C., this morning.

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