Bishop Salvador Rangel Mendoza of Chilpancingo-Chilapa, Mexico, celebrates Mass in Chilpancingo June 7, 2018. Bishop Salvador Rangel Mendoza of Chilpancingo-Chilapa, Mexico, celebrates Mass in Chilpancingo June 7, 2018. The now-retired Mexican bishop known for brokering deals with drug cartel bosses was located in a hospital bed April 29, 2024, after being incommunicado for two days, though local officials believe he was briefly abducted in an "express kidnapping" by unknown assailants. (OSV News photo by Gustavo Graf/Reuters)

Mexican bishop who negotiates with drug cartels hospitalized after brief abduction

(OSV News) — A retired Mexican bishop known for brokering deals with drug cartel bosses was located in a hospital bed after being incommunicado for two days, though local officials say he was briefly abducted in an “express kidnapping” by unknown assailants.

Retired Bishop Salvador Rangel Mendoza of Chilpancingo-Chilapa was reported missing April 29, sparking an outpouring of concern amid widespread violence in Mexico. The bishop has long been famous for trying to diminish violence in the southern state of Guerrero — which includes his former diocese — through dialogue with crime bosses and more recently helping to negotiate a peace pact between rival drug cartels.

The Mexican bishops’ conference said in an April 29 statement that Bishop Rangel was hospitalized in the city of Cuernavaca, where he has resided since resigning as bishop of Chilpancingo-Chilapa in early 2022.

The conference provided no details on Bishop Rangel’s condition or the circumstances of his disappearance. Morelos state prosecutor Uriel Carmona showed reporters a cellular phone picture of Bishop Rangel lying in a hospital bed and said officials were investigating an “express kidnapping,” in which victims are briefly abducted and robbed.

“What we have is that it could have been an express kidnapping to deprive the victim of money through ATM withdrawals,” Carmona told Radio Formula.

In an earlier statement, the conference pleaded with Bishop Rangel’s captors to allow him to take his prescribed medications as “an act of humanity.”

Bishop Rangel’s disappearance sparked nationwide concern in an overwhelmingly Catholic country, which has been wracked by violence.

His candid interviews capture nationwide attention, especially his statements on drug cartels intervening in elections and colluding with politicians in states such as Guerrero — long Mexico’s heroin-producing heartland, but a place where criminal groups now run extortion rackets and increasingly control local governments.

He also developed a reputation for seeking dialogue with drug cartel leaders and often intervened in cases of kidnapping and extortion — including a situation in which the cathedral in the Diocese of Tlapa was forced to pay protection money, he told OSV News in an April 1 interview.

Bishop Rangel’s abduction came two months after the four bishops in Guerrero attempted to negotiate a truce between three drug cartels. The groups reached a truce after the bishops had withdrawn from the process.

The bishop said he introduced the bishops to the leadership of one of the groups, which trusted him as an interlocutor. He also insisted all sides were abiding by the terms of the truce.

“The goal is pacifying Guerrero,” Bishop Rangel told OSV News. “It’s a path, an option that is working: rapprochement and dialogue. And we are living in peace. There are no deaths.”

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David Agren writes for OSV News from Mexico City. He is currently in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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