By Jeremy McDermott Latin America Correspondent
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH in Mexico is joining the fight against crime. which has now reached endemic levels, by drawing up plans to excommunicate kidnappers.
We are preparing an agreement on excommunicating kidnappers and their accomplices," Cardinal Juan Sandoval lniguez of the western city of Guadalajara told reporters last week.
The agreement to banish kidnappers from the faith was to be signed this week by 12 bishops from western Mexico, he said, adding it was time for kidnappers to chose between Christianity and crime.
Mexican bishops have a tradition of speaking out on political and social issues and are not afraid to court controversy.
In the case of the notorious kidnapper Daniel Arizmendi, known as the "Earlopper" after his habit of cutting off his victim's ears to speed up ransom payments, Bishop Luis Reynoso Cervantes of Cuernavaca in central Morelos state was unequivocal in his comments.
"An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, an ear for an ear," he said. "We Catholics can't do that, but this makes you want to make an exception."
Arizmendi was arrested in August after the biggest national manhunt ever mounted by Mexico's police force. He pleaded guilty to charges of murder and kidnapping and did not express the slightest remorse for his crimes.
Bishop Reynoso had already embarked on the tough new policy when he excommunicated the chief
and two agents of the Morelos state's anti-kidnapping squad after they were found to be in league with the criminals they were supposed to catch and were arrested in February. Their racket was exposed on January 30 when anti-kidnap squad chief Commander Armando Martinez was caught by a highway patrol
as he and two colleagues looked for a place to dispose of a body.
Mexico's bishops have not restricted their comments to kidnapping. In June they issued a stinging criticism of the government's anti-drugs initiative, saying the authorities were unable to halt a spiral of violence because corruption had eaten too far into the system. The bishops made the claims in a document released in response to a Vatican conference on the drugs problem last year.
"Violence and the struggle between cartels has converted Mexico into a stage for death and violence that government forces cannot contain, be it because the situation has spun beyond their control, or because of the complicity that has corrupted many structures of control or persecution of narco-traffickers," the document, issued by the Mexican Episcopal Conference. said.
Kidnappings and other crimes have soared in Mexico since the devaluation of the peso in December 1994 plunged the country into economic recession.
In the Federal District of Mexico City alone there is an average of 628 crimes, involving weapons, committed each day, leaving six people dead.