A priest in the northern Argentine city of San Miguel de Tucumán who in recent days denounced drug traffickers in his homilies was found dead in his rectory on Wednesday.
The body of Father Juan Heraldo Viroche, 46, was found hanged Oct. 5 in his room at Our Lady of the Valley rectory. Police reported finding his belongings scattered on the floor.
The court has ordered an autopsy on the priest’s body to establish the cause of death.
The parish faithful said that days before, the priest had expressed his concern over threats received because of his denunciations of the gangs engaged in selling drugs.
One of Viroche’s actions was to say a Mass in November 2015 calling for a people free of drugs and thefts in Delfín Gallo, a rural settlement just 10 miles southeast of San Miguel de Tucumán.
Also, because of the repeated thefts in the last year, the priest decided to put a fence around the church and blamed criminal activity on the growing drug trafficking which he said corrupts teens and young adults in the area.
The Archdiocese of Tucumán issued a statement lamenting Viroche’s death and adding: “We expect prompt clarification of the facts and trust in the action of the justice system, with which of course we will be cooperating in everything that depends on us.”
The Tucumán archdiocese added that they join with the priest’s family and the parish faithful in “their grief over the loss of their pastor” and commended Viroche “to the mercy of God, that the Lord may welcome him into heaven.”
Sustained threats against the priest by drug gangs led him to ask to be transferred, which had already been authorized. However, the priest wanted to finish the novena he had started in the community, Archbishop Alfredo Zecca of Tucumán said.
The Argentine bishops’ conference also expressed their “sorrow and dismay over the death” of Viroche, and asked for a “prompt clarification of the facts.”
“We ask God to welcome into his home our brother, Fr. Juan, and may his life and ministry be for the Church a priestly witness that encourages everyone to continue to work for a more fraternal society in the service of the most vulnerable,” they said.