[Editor’s note: On July 28, Bishop Ramon Castro y Castro of Cuernavaca, Mexico, hosted more than 100 people from various civil organizations in the local cathedral. They expressed criticism of Governor Graco Ramirez, speaking up about various difficulties facing the state. Cuernavaca is the fourth most dangerous city in Mexico.

Ramirez’s political party filed a complaint against Castro for interfering in politics in violation of the country’s laws. In this piece, Mexican columnist Jorge E. Traslosheros comments on the case.]

Bishop Ramón Castro y Castro is the bishop of Cuernavaca, a diocese that covers the state of Morelos in south central Mexico, adjacent to Mexico City. Upon his arrival three years ago, he found a dismantled diocese and a population steeped in fear and pessimism, the result of the generalized violence and corruption, caused both by organized crime and politicians who claim to govern the population.

Castro is a shepherd who smells of his sheep, kept under siege by Governor Graco Ramirez of the Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, which claims to be part of the progressive left.

Castro has been characterized by his proximity to those he spends most of his time with. He has listened and shared the sorrows of the faithful, and of all the citizens who wanted to talk to him.

His pastoral sensitivity and courage have made him the voice of hope for those who have no voice. His strategy has been to follow the footsteps of the Curé of Ars: Rebuild the Church, from the shrine to the street, with missionary zeal in order to serve the people.

The voice and the pastoral approach of Castro have provoked the fury of Ramirez, a man accustomed to tripping over his own mistakes. The governor has launched a smear campaign against the bishop, including actions of harassment and intimidation.

The national leadership of the Party of the Democratic Revolution has joined this campaign, demanding that the federal government take action against Castro.

The leaders of the self-proclaimed progressive Mexican left have never let me down. They are predictable, even in their obsessions.

When Pope Francis asks bishops to be missionaries, to be the voice that cries out for justice and invites them to be pastors smelling of sheep, then the lackeys of the left and its leaders celebrate the pope’s words and rage against the Catholic Church, as if among us there were only uncaring shepherds.

However, when in everyday life they encounter a pastor actually smelling of sheep who, amid lacerating realities, raises his prophetic voice, they undertake smear campaigns, harassment and persecution.

They praise Francis’ words, yet they pursue his pastors.

Similarly, when a bishop or priest issues opinions favorable to someone’s political interests, they celebrate and devote the front pages of their newspapers to it, citing their words in the public arena. But when bishops or priests criticize them for their misrule and misdeeds, then they seek to silence them, criminalizing their opinions.

St. John the Baptist reserved harsh words for those rulers who, like Herod, believe that cutting off heads can disguise reality.

Politicians and intellectuals of this left should reel in their primitive, authoritarian instincts. They would benefit from making the effort to understand the true meaning of a secular state with democratic aspirations, for only then will they understand that churches, both pastors and faithful, are an integral part of civil society.

When, as Catholics, we express ourselves, we do it in full exercise of our citizens’ rights to free expression of ideas, freedom of association, and above all, the exercise of our human right of religious freedom.

It is time that these politicians understand that by attacking churches, they’re attacking civil society, which is the only foundation of democracy.

Yes, it’s an assault on citizens, not political parties.

The truth is that these people are not only bothered by the freedom with which Catholics act and express our opinions. It also infuriates them to see civil society exercising its right to be critical and independent.

It’s no coincidence that, together with Castro, other citizens were also attacked, such as Alejandro Vera, rector of the Autonomous University of the State of Morelos, as well as Catholic poet and human rights activist Javier Sicilia, among many others.

Those in the Party of the Democratic Revolution who, with their ancient intolerance, today were laying the basis for religious persecution, would do well to read, Castro’s words which appeared in the newspaper Sur Digital on Aug. 14.

“I am a pastor and I listened to my sheep,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a crime, and if it were, I’ll evangelize the prisoners .”