Originally posted at www.latimes.com:
MEXICO UNDER SIEGE
Mexico seminary joins list of extortion callers’ targets
Callers, allegedly from drug cartel La Familia Michoacana, demand payment to respect the lives of those at Conciliar Seminary.
MEXICO CITY — It is a distressingly common part of life in modern Mexico: the bullying phone call demanding that the person who answers pay up — or else. Businesses get the extortion calls. Families get them.
And now, apparently, so has the country’s main Roman Catholic seminary.
In a sermon Sunday, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera announced that a vice rector at the Conciliar Seminary of Mexico received a number of threatening phone calls Nov. 20-21. The callers, the cardinal said, demanded 60,000 pesos — about $4,500 — “in exchange for respecting the lives of the superiors of that institution,” according to a statement issued Sunday evening by the Archdiocese of Mexico.
“Last week we were meeting in the seminary; they called numerous times, and identified themselves as La Familia Michoacana,” Rivera said, according to the news service Milenio, referring to a drug cartel based in Michoacan state. “But who knows?”
The allegation will register as less than shocking to many here, and not only because extortion calls are so common. Mexicans are also inured to the fact that the Catholic Church generally receives little immunity from the depredations of Mexico’s wave of organized crime.
That reality was driven home in May 1993 when Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo was shot to death in the parking lot of the Guadalajara airport. Federal investigators concluded that hit men for the Tijuana cartel mistook the cardinal’s car for that of one owned by Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, although many Mexicans never bought the explanation.
More recently, a number of priests and church officials have been subject to violence and threats. Last month, two priests were gunned down in an apparent robbery attempt at a parish residence in Veracruz state. In October, Miguel Patiño, the bishop of Apatzingan, a city in troubled Michoacan, released an open letter denouncing the power of drug gangs there and reportedly received death threats after speaking out.
In July, the bishop of Cuernavaca state said a priest in the area had been a victim of extortion, and had also received threats of violence.
Though top Catholic leaders have denounced the culture of violence here, some parishes have benefited from drug world largesse, accepting donations from capos to finance church renovations and community projects.
Cardinal Rivera, according to the archdiocese, instructed the rector of the Mexico City seminary to report the threatening phone calls to officials. In his sermon, according to the statement, he “lamented the spiral of violence that has been growing in the country.”
Photo: Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, above in October 1998, announced Sunday that a vice rector at the Conciliar Seminary of Mexico received threatening phone calls. Rivera has instructed the seminary to report the calls to authorities. (Corrado Giambalvo / Associated Press, via LA Times)