Priest killed in Mexico; 9th slain in country in past 4 years

MEXICO CITY (AP) — A Roman Catholic priest has been killed in the western Mexican state of Michoacan, the ninth slain in the country in the past four years.

The church’s Catholic Multimedia Center identified the priest as Rev. Javier García Villafaña, who had been assigned to the Capacho parish in Huandacareo just one month earlier.

The Michoacan state prosecutor’s office said that García’s body had several gunshot wounds and was found inside a vehicle.

The killing came one day after the Mexican Episcopal Conference expressed its solidarity and condemnation of an attack against Monsignor Faustino Armendáriz Jiménez, archbishop of the northern state of Durango.

On Sunday, an elderly man tried to stab Armendáriz in Durango’s cathedral. The archbishop escaped uninjured.

The conference condemned García’s killing in a statement and called on authorities to find those responsible.

“It is a painful reminder of the serious situation we face as a society, in which the presence of organized crime and impunity continue threatening the lives and safety of so many,” the statement said.

The Catholic Multimedia Center said in the statement that García was shot while driving near Capacho on the shores of Cuitzeo lake.

Michoacan has been roiled by violence for years. Multiple drug cartels vie for control of parts of the state and extend their illicit business to logging, mining and even limes and avocados.

In their quest to eliminate any threat to their operations organized criminal groups have killed journalists, environmental activists and priests, in addition to any average citizens caught in their way.

Gangs have taken complete control of some communities.

In 2021, a priest in Michoacan called for parishioners to arm themselves in the face of government inaction.

“The cartel gunmen come, they take the livestock, they screw your wife and daughter, and you do nothing,” the Rev. Alfredo Gallegos said in a sermon. ”Well, get yourself a gun, the government can go to hell.”

Gallegos, a parish priest is better known as “Father Pistolas” for his habit of carrying a gun.

The Mexican government in recent years has done little more than send troops to act as a buffer between warring cartels in Michoacan.

More generally, the church in Mexico has displayed growing frustration with the country's security situation.

After a drug gang leader in the northern state of Chihuahua killed two elderly Jesuit priests and a tour guide inside a church in Cerocahui last June, the Roman Catholic Mexican Council of Bishops issued an open letter telling the government “It is time to revise the security policies that are failing.”