A new report confirms that for the eighth year in a row, Mexico is the most dangerous country to be a priest.
The latest study from Mexico's Catholic Media Centre (CCM) confirmed that in the past three years 15 priests have been murdered, with 61 recorded attacks on priests in the past 26 years.
CCM director Father Sergio Omar Sotelo Aguilar said: 'Freedom of worship in Mexico is being decimated, undermined and threatened by organized crime.'
In an interview with Religion Digital, Aguilar said: 'Mexico lives one of the most difficult stages of its history. Crime and violence have overwhelmed government institutions at all levels, causing an impressive increase in violence against society, and the Church has been no exception.'
He said that recent attacks were part of a 'new persecution' of Mexican priests that goes beyond just physical violence, but seeks to discredit the Church through defamation and slander.
CCM was given a National Journalism Award for its investigative work responding to attacks on Mexican ministers. 'Our mission is to make known that something is happening against the ministers of worship, they are persecuted and killed,' Aguilar said. 'Today that voice has risen strongly and we hope it will be heard to avoid further human losses not only from priests, but from any Mexicans.'
Drug cartels are a primary target of suspicion for the intimidation and attacks. In May it was reported that one priest was required to pay a 'tax' to local criminals to protect his cathedral from their attacks. Others report being held up and robbed by armed groups, and facing death threats, according to Sight Magazine. Indigneous priest Felipe Altamirano Carrillo was killed in late March.
'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 Christian persecution watchdog Open Doors.
'There is serious ongoing persecution through organised 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 minimises this problem and is currently unwilling to take effective measures.'
Aguilar added: 'The situation of our country is delicate, no doubt. Given this context we need a courageous Church, embodied in the realities of our people. We cannot be silent before so much barbarism. It is necessary that our pastors be courageous and in solidarity with this great, but suffering people.'