This Is The Deadliest Place On Earth For Catholic Priests

For centuries, the Catholic Church has been sending missionaries into foreign fields to spread the gospel, convert the locals to Catholicism, and provide humanitarian aid such as education, food, and medicine. And some priests have paid for their service with their lives, victimized by either hostile natives or governments keen to keep Christianity and Catholicism (or foreigners in general) out of their countries.

Catholic priests have also been martyred in countries where their faith was (and is) perfectly legal. For example, as the Knights of Columbus notes, Father James Coyle served in Alabama at a time when anti-Catholic sentiment was strong, and he paid for his devotion with his life after marrying the daughter of a Klansman to a Puerto Rican Catholic.

You would think that in a country that is almost uniformly Catholic, being a priest would be a safe job. As it turns out, this isn't the case. Mexico, where almost 80% of the population adheres to that faith, per Pew Research Center, is actually the most dangerous country in the world for Catholic priests. And the reason why has nothing to do with government persecution.

Violent drug cartels have murdered dozens of Catholic workers in Mexico

Mexico may have freedom of religion codified into law, and it may have an almost exclusively Catholic population, but that doesn't mean that the country is safe for priests and other Catholics in lives of religious service. That's because the country also has violent drug cartels, and these criminal gangs will murder anyone who they perceive to be a threat, whether they're journalists, politicians, or priests.

As A&E TV reports, between 2005 and 2021, Mexican drug cartels murdered at least 47 pastoral workers — which is to say, priests, nuns, and similar workers. Father Sergio Omar Sotelo Aguilar, director of Mexico's Catholic Multimedia Center, says that there are two reasons for this. The first is that these men and women, by their very nature, stand against the crime, violence, and graft that the cartels stand for. And if they're perceived as being a threat, the cartels won't hesitate to murder them. Second, some gang members falsely believe that Catholic churches and other buildings are actually hiding treasure and will kill to get to it.

Father Aguilar says that attacks against priests in Mexico are attacks against Catholicism in that country. "When you murder a priest, you're not just murdering a person. You're also pummeling an institution that stabilizes an entire community," he said.