An aspiring Catholic priest Jose Luis Guerra, a member of Raza Nueva in Christ, a project of the archdiocese of Monterrey, talks to Angel Castillo, who wants to become a missionary with Raza Nueva, in the municipality of Garcia, outskirts of Monterrey, Mexico.
An aspiring Catholic priest Jose Luis Guerra, a member of Raza Nueva in Christ, a project of the archdiocese of Monterrey, talks to Angel Castillo, who wants to become a missionary with Raza Nueva, in the municipality of Garcia, outskirts of Monterrey, Mexico. (REUTERS/Daniel Becerril )

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A bishop forced to pay protection money to use his own cathedral is the latest example of why, for the 8th year running, Mexico is considered the most dangerous country in which to be a Catholic priest.

The Catholic Media Center's latest annual report says at least 15 priests have been murdered in the past three years alone, while there have been a total of 61 recorded attacks on Catholic priests in the past 26 years. Drug cartels are blamed.

In March, World Watch Monitor reported that cartels charging church leaders "taxes" is now "very common." Dagoberto Sosa Arriaga, bishop of Tlapa in southern Mexico's Guerrero state, is the latest example—forced to pay criminals to ensure the undisturbed use of his cathedral, as Milenio reported on 28 May. Meanwhile, another Guerrero bishop, Maximino Martínez Miranda from Ciudad Altamirano, was recently stopped by an armed group who commandeered his vehicle.

As World Watch Monitor reported in April, the violence affects everyone, but actively practicing Christians are particularly vulnerable.

To address the threat to Catholic leaders in the western state of Jalisco, Bishop Salvador Rangel Mendoza has initiated a round of peace talks with leaders from the criminal world.

But another priest, Alejandro Solandine, who accused the government of having links with organised crime bosses, received death threats.

"So far this year in Mexico, the number of murders and kidnappings of Christians seems to be increasing," said Rossana Ramirez, an analyst at the World Watch Research unit of the Christian charity Open Doors.

"There is serious ongoing persecution through organized corruption and crime. This not only affects priests, but also Christians in general; in some states, the fear of being murdered, abducted or otherwise persecuted has caused many Christians to leave. It seems that the Mexican government minimizes this problem and is currently unwilling to take effective measures."

This article originally appeared on World Watch Monitor.

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