By David Agren
Catholic News Service
MEXICO CITY (CNS) — Two priests were kidnapped and killed in the Mexican state of Veracruz, raising the death toll of priests murdered in Mexico to 14 in less than four years.
Veracruz state attorney general Luis Angel Bravo Contreras told reporters Sept. 20 that the "victims and the victimizers knew each other" and added that the attack was "not a kidnapping."
"They were together, having a few drinks, the gathering broke down due to alcohol and turned violent," he said.
Catholic officials in Veracruz rejected the explanation, calling it "an easy out" and saying it ignored the reality of a state notorious for crime and corruption.
"We are hoping for more professional and careful inquiry, because this declaration the prosecutor is giving generates more doubts than responses to the issue of the murder of these two priests," said Father Jose Manuel Suazo Reyes, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Xalapa. "It surprises us how quickly they’ve concluded an investigation that requires more time and care."
Father Alejo Nabor Jimenez Juarez and Father Jose Alfredo Juarez de la Cruz were dragged at gunpoint out of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Poza Rica, a Gulf Coast oil city consumed by crime in recent years, the Diocese of Papantla confirmed in a statement.
Media reported the men were found Sept. 19, one day after their abduction, along the side of a highway with their hands and feet bound. They were beaten and had gunshot wounds, according to media reports.
A driver employed by the parish also was abducted, Mexican media reported, but was found unharmed.
State officials said Sept. 20 that five men participated in the abductions and one of the suspect’s identities was known. Robbery of a church building fund was cited as a motive, Veracruz media outlet Plumas Libres reported.
"In these moments of pain, impotence and tragedy provoked by violence, we raise our prayers to the heavens for the eternal rest of our brothers and implore to the Lord the conversion of the aggressors. Of the authorities, we await the clarification of the acts and the application of those responsible," the Mexican bishops’ conference said in a statement.
Violence has struck Veracruz clergy previously. In 2013, two priests in the Diocese of Tuxpan were murdered in their parish.