The New York Times Magazine has a profile of Robert Coogan, a Catholic priest who is chaplain at a prison in Mexico. For all practical purposes by the Zetas, a powerful crime syndicate.
It’s true that for all their infamous cruelty — beheadings, kidnappings, the mass murder of 72 Central and South American migrants in 2010 — the Zetas are also known for their respect of the Catholic Church. After I wrote in 2011 about a chapel that Lazcano, one of the cartel’s founders, built in his hometown, word trickled back to Saltillo’s Zetas, who insisted on doing something similar for Coogan. “What color would you like the chapel painted?” one of the leaders asked him. Coogan said he liked it the way it was and told them not to bother because the roof leaked. “Two hours later they had people on the roof,” he said. “There was nothing you could do about it. They made a decision.”Occasionally there have been more significant moments of solidarity between the cartel members and the priest. In January 2012, dozens of soldiers and police officers raided the Saltillo Cereso. In addition to confiscating drugs and alcohol and electronics, they ransacked the chapel and broke apart the tabernacle. Coogan called it a sacrilege as he showed me the destruction. But the raid ultimately deepened his relationship with the Zetas, who see the Mexican military as villains, not because they represent law and order but because they are presumed to be in the pocket of the Sinaloa Cartel. A few months later, when Coogan strongly resisted a Zetas request to bless a building that included a shrine to Santa Muerte, the idolatrous saint of death, the Zetas moved the shrine and replaced Santa Muerte with Pancho Villa, the revolutionary hero. “To call the Zetas evil, I wouldn’t want to do that,” Coogan said. In a country where the government is corrupt, the church is weak and business tycoons exploit workers while protecting lucrative monopolies, he said of the group’s vicious behavior, “It’s what they were taught.”
That's a world away from matters of reason and rationality that dominate so much discussion of religion offered by atheist intellectuals.