As you know, Pope Francis will be in Mexico next week. He will be stopping in Cd. Juárez on February 17. In Mexico, the Pope is expected to trace the route migrants take to get to the United States in a symbolic embrace of solidarity. The Pope is also expected to address corruption in Mexico.
However, what the Pope will likely avoid discussing is the part the Catholic Church plays in supporting the drug barons that have led to the unprecedented violence that has claimed many Mexicans over the years. The Pope will avoid this discussion because it is an inconvenient truth that completely destroys the Pope’s mission to admonish the Mexican government over corruption.
You see, the problem for the Pope is that the Catholic Church in Mexico has been actively accepting hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars in drug monies as donations to the Church. They are known in Mexico as narcolimosnas. The word limosna, in Spanish means charity, or a donation.
You can see the drug money in many churches in the Mexican towns dominated by the drug barons. They are easily seen in the plaques that commemorate a church that was built with donated drug money or pews that were paid for by family members of drug dealers. When the priests are asked about where the money came from for the church buildings, they feign ignorance.
In 2005, the Aguascalientes Bishop, Ramón Godínez, publicly agreed that drug traffickers donate money to the Mexican Catholic Church. Godínez argued that it was not the Church’s role to “investigate the origin of the money.” Godínez went on to state that just because the money is derived from evil, “it should not be burned, instead it should be purified.”
Late last year, Mexican officials opened an investigation into the source of funds used to build the Señora de los Lagos church in the state of Hidalgo. Up until 2011, the church had a plaque attesting to the donation from Heriberto Lazcano, the founding leader of the Zetas.
In the 1990’s, the Arellano Félix brothers, of the so-called Tijuana Cartel, donated huge amounts of money to Bishop Emilio Berlie so that the brothers could have a private audience with Apostolic Nuncio Jerónimo Prigione. The Arellano Félix brothers reportedly were looking for forgiveness from the Church for their part in the murder of Cardinal Posadas Ocampo in Guadalajara in 1993. Posadas was killed in a shootout between the Arellano Félix assassins and the body guards for Chapo Guzmán.
In 1995, Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, the leader of the so-called Juárez cartel was photographed visiting Jerusalem with a priest from Mexico. Carrillo Fuentes was a well-known benefactor to the Catholic Church in Mexico.
Although many Church leaders have acknowledged the narcolimosnas, the practice continues today.
By publicly accepting money from the traffickers, the Church tacitly approves of their activities. The Church may argue that it condemns the criminality and the violence but by accepting the drug money they send a clear signal that money will buy salvation into heaven.
Pope Francis is expected to call for the end to corruption in Mexican society. The message is important and should be headed, but isn’t leadership based on example? If Pope Francis really wants to curb corruption wouldn’t it be prudent to start by clearly ending the practice of narcolimosnas?
Drug money is derived from evil and as such it has no place in or around a church that purports to represent the holiness of God.