Mexico: Most dangerous place for Catholic priests

The government is accused of failing to uphold constitutional freedoms for religious minorities in Mexico.Reuters

More Catholic priests and leaders were killed in Mexico last year than any other country in the world.

According to the latest report on freedom violations in Mexico by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), religious discrimination is a pervasive problem in many parts of the country. The government is accused of failing to uphold constitutional freedoms, as well as not holding to account those responsible for violations.

Statistics gathered by the Mexican Episcopal Conference reveal that five Catholic pastoral workers were killed in Mexico in 2014, out of a total of 14 across the world. A number of Catholic priests and Protestant pastors have also been kidnapped.

Christian leaders from other denominations are also facing threats from criminal groups, CSW reports.

"The rise of powerful criminal groups in many parts of the country has had a chilling effect on religious freedom," the organisation said in a statement.

"They often consider churches an attractive target for extortion and as fronts for money laundering, and believe that church leaders pose a threat to their influence and aims."

Another factor contributing to the situation is that parts of some Mexican states are governed under the Law of Uses of Customs, which gives significant autonomy to indigenous communities. Though the constitution guarantees freedom of religion or belief, it is not uncommon for local leaders to force members of their communities to follow certain religious practices and the rights of minority groups are "routinely violated".

Some minorities are deprived of basic services such as water and electricity, are refused the right to vote and minority children are barred from attending school.

"In addition, religious minorities are often banned from burying their deceased in public cemeteries and face prohibitions on worship, the destruction of property, violence and forced displacement. The government rarely takes action to address these violations, leading to a culture of impunity and a sense that the majority religious group has the right to enforce religious beliefs in the community," CSW said.

Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas has condemned the violations. "This report demonstrates that in spite of the Mexican government's public statements that it is working to uphold religious freedom in Mexico, little concrete action has been taken," he said.

"The rights of religious minorities are violated on an almost daily basis in many parts of the country with no response from the government officials responsible for upholding the constitution. The fact that so many of these cases have been left unresolved for years, with victims living in precarious situations, shows an ingrained lack of will on the part of state and federal government officials to effectively address these abuses and to ensure that religious freedom is upheld for all.

"The culture of impunity leads to even more violations of religious freedom. If anything is to change, the government must take strong measures to ensure that those responsible for these serious violations, whether a local government official or a criminal group, be held to account through the legal system."

Over 80 per cent of the Mexican population are Catholic.