Could priests in Mexico avoid being killed by wearing a cassock?

cassock Alexey Gotovskyi / ACI Press

Bishop Jesús González Hernández of Chilpancingo-Chilapa in the Mexican state of Guerrero said wearing religious dress could prevent the murder of Catholic priests.

Speaking to the press over the weekend, in the context of the call of the Catholic Church for prayers for peace during the month of July, the Mexican prelate explained that the use of Roman collars or cassocks could prevent priests from being victims of violence in the country.

When asked if he was going to prohibit priests from visiting some areas of his diocese, the bishop replied: “No. But we do have to wear our (religious) clothing because they can confuse us with someone else.”

“You have to be identified,” he said.

“I’m going to say that (the priests) should wear external identification. So, yes, I would have to oblige us to wear the Roman collar or a religious sign,” he added.

The bishop also said that the vehicles used by priests must be marked as such.

“If they attack us, they should attack us because we’re already wearing it (religious clothing), but they shouldn’t confuse us by mistake,” the bishop said.

When asked if he believes that people should take up arms in the face of the wave of violence, the bishop of Chilpancigo-Chilpa said, “No, I don’t think so. Neither in Guerrero nor in Mexico.”

“In the Church we pray and pray so that it doesn’t incite more war, more violence, more deaths. No. That’s not the way to go. We pray that they won’t take up weapons,” he said.

A recent report by the Catholic Multimedia Center shows that the violence in Mexico has left the tragic toll of one cardinal and 57 priests murdered between 1990 and 2022.

Why don’t priests usually wear religious clothing in Mexico?

Although the cassock and the Roman collar are the common clothing of  priests, many of them don’t usually wear them on a daily basis in Mexico.

Father José de Jesús Aguilar, deputy director of Radio and Television for the Archdiocese of Mexico, explained to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language sister news agency, that there is a historical reason for their daily clothing.

“We must remember that in the last century there was a religious persecution that led to laws coming out that prohibited worship in public places outside of the church, and also prohibited religious habits from being worn outside these premises,” he said.

The Catholic Church was severely persecuted in the 1920s, the years when the Cristero War took place in which thousands of Catholics died, many of them martyred.

In 1926, President Plutarco Elías Calles promulgated the so-called Calles Law, making it a crime, among other things related to faith, for a priest to wear a cassock out in public or for religion to be taught in schools.

Aguilar told ACI Prensa that the ban was only eliminated in 1992, under the presidency of Carlos Salinas de Gortari, when relations between the Church and the state were restored.

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Until then, he noted, “many priests had to dress in an ordinary or normal way,” and couldn’t wear “the cassock, the Roman collar, or in some cases the religious habit.”

However, “in some places, the men and women religious continued to use these habits and there was no penalty by the government,” the priest said.

Carlos Salinas de Gortari was president of Mexico from 1988 to 1994. During his administration, some laws that affected the clergy were repealed, and in 1992 diplomatic relations with the Vatican were officially reestablished.

“Now you can openly wear the cassock, the Roman collar or any religious habit in public places,” Aguilar explained.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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