Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Abducted Catholic bishop who brokered cartel truces found in Cuernavaca hospital

A retired Roman Catholic bishop who was well-known for his willingness to engage with criminal groups was allegedly drugged and kidnapped on Saturday and is now recovering in a hospital in Cuernavaca.

Morelos Attorney General Uriel Carmona said that Salvador Rangel Mendoza, former bishop of the Chilapa-Chilpancingo diocese in the state of Guerrero, may have been a victim of an “express kidnapping” given that a number of withdrawals were made from his bank account.

He was allegedly abducted after leaving his home near Cuernavaca in his vehicle on Saturday morning. His SUV was allegedly stolen by unidentified criminals.

The Mexican Episcopal Conference (CEM) said in a statement on Monday afternoon that Rangel, 78, had been missing since Saturday, but it later came to light that the retired bishop had in fact been in hospital since Sunday.

The CEM called on federal, state and municipal authorities to work together to bring the retired bishop home “safe and sound.”

It also called on “those who keep Monsignor Rangel Mendoza in captivity” to allow him to take “the medications he requires for his well-being.”

Salvador Rangel
The church association CEM announced Monday evening that Rangel had been located. (Twitter)

In a statement published on Monday evening, the bishops’ association said that Rangel had been located and was in the Dr. José G. Parres General Hospital in Cuernavaca, the capital of Morelos. The retired bishop lives in the neighboring municipality of Jiutepec.

According to Pedro Martínez Bello, a lawyer for Rangel, hospital staff realized they were treating the retired bishop after the CEM released its initial statement. The Morelos Health Ministry said in a statement on Monday that Rangel was admitted to hospital on Sunday night.

On Monday night, Rangel left the General Hospital and was taken to a private hospital, according to the Health Ministry.

Martínez told reporters on Tuesday morning that Rangel is “well, but not conscious.”

The retired bishop is expected to talk to authorities and make a formal criminal complaint when he is in a condition to do so.

Martínez asserted that his client was drugged during his kidnapping ordeal, and noted that his doctor said it could take him another three days to recover.

He said that Rangel was located at approximately 5 p.m. Sunday in Ocotopec, a community in the municipality of Cuernavaca. Security sources cited by the La Jornada newspaper said he was found lying on the street and that it appeared he had been beaten.

Dr. José G. Parres General Hospital in Cuernavaca
At Dr. José G. Parres General Hospital in Cuernavaca, staff realized their John Doe patient was Salvador Rangel after hearing of the retired bishop’s disappearance. (Gobierno de Morelos)

However, Martínez said Tuesday that Rangel did not have any serious injuries. He noted that his client suffers from high blood pressure and has a pacemaker. He also said it was unclear how he got to the hospital on Sunday night.

“We don’t know how he arrived, or whether it was a citizen who put him in an ambulance. … He arrived [at the hospital] as an unknown person,” Martínez said.

The lawyer said that people close to the retired bishop realized something was wrong when they became aware that money had been withdrawn from Rangel’s account from different locations in Cuernavaca.

The lawyer said that the retired bishop left his mobile telephones at his home when he went out on Saturday morning, indicating that he planned to return soon. It appears that people close to the bishop became aware of withdrawals and purchases with Rangel’s cards when they saw bank messages on his phones.

Rangel, who retired in 2022, was an outspoken bishop and became famous for engaging with instigators of violence and seeking truces between feuding cartels in Guerrero. Earlier this year, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador endorsed the efforts of bishops and priests to pacify Mexico via dialogue with criminals.

Mexico is a dangerous place for priests and other religious leaders, even if they are not involved in direct talks with criminals. More than 30 priests have been killed since 2012, and a similar number of evangelical church leaders have been murdered.

Rangel’s apparent abduction came two years after two elderly Jesuit priests were murdered in a church in southwestern Chihuahua. An archbishop of Guadalajara and Roman Catholic cardinal, Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo, was shot dead at the Guadalajara airport in 1993.

With reports from La Jornada and El Sol de Cuernavaca 

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