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To serve vulnerable groups in Guanajuato

Public funds, private philanthropy and hate speech


Verónica Espinosa

The government of the state of Guanajuato, controlled by PAN (the National Action Party, in english) since 1991, has ceded the protection and defense of vulnerable populations -children and teens, at-risk women and people with addiction disorders- to Catholic groups managed by priests, nuns, congregations and lay people committed to religious organizations.

In exchange, the Guanajuato government has given them more than 80 million pesos of public resources in the last five years to design programs and serve these populations, who receive in exchange courses on “family upbringing” as an option to stop femicides in the state or to care for people with addictions in rehabilitation centers.

These funds come from the Secretary of Social and Human Development as well as from Fidesseg, created by Governor Diego Sinhue Rodríguez. Only in the official records of this trust, there are more than six groups or Catholic orders that receive public resources. There are, for example, the Legionaries of Christ, Opus Dei and the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

However, little is known about the results of this work. And this happens because the organizations do not report the results of their social work and the criteria used by the government to deliver these funds is not clear. Nor do they justify the use of religion in matters which the law mandates that secular criteria be maintained.

Worse still, organizations also run by Catholics have been the ones that present frequent patterns of violence, sexual abuse, forced sterilization, forced abortion, and trafficking for labor or sexual purposes of children and adolescents in shelters.

In this investigative work, POPLab presents the findings, cases and stories that prove a financial relationship and an ideological and religious bond that PAN has nurtured in the government practice in Guanajuato, placing in the hands of these associations and religious groups that represent them or guide the population that should have their rights especially guaranteed.

Part I:

Public funds to speak of God.

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Yajaira Gasca and Melissa Esquivias

Rosa María, workshop leader of a program by the State System for the Integral Development of the Family (DIF, by its acronym in Spanish), told in one of her conferences about “positive upbringing” a story she heard about a 13 year old girl who was murdered in the Santa Clara neighborhood in León, Guanajuato.

She mentioned no details and the case is not registered in the reports of the Secretary of Security and Citizen Protection of León.

However, Rosa María took advantage of the case to tell a dozen parents that the origin of that death was a lack of values.

“What is happening with us? Why do girls suffer this aggression? We as parents have to educate them, have to educate them and invite them to feel good about being girls, being fine, educated, with values,” she said.

The woman -who introduced herself as a teacher in Family Sciences- was selected to distribute content related to “respectful upbringing”, so defined in the Positive Parenting program, which began in 2022.

Adriana Ramírez Lozano, DIF director, in the GUIA Alliance event as a part of the Positive Parenting program.
Photo: Guanajuato State Government.

Rosa María is one of the volunteers who participates in the diffusion of the program. DIF first trained personnel from the municipal systems. These in turn oriented volunteer family fathers and mothers that then became “knowledge replicators” in schools, workshops or community centers.

During the talk to which POPLab had access, the facilitator made incriminating comments about the girl victim of femicide and made other expressions of a misogynistic and homophobic type.

The facilitator Rosa María speaks.

“There are boys who like to see themselves naked in the mirror, they see, and now to what’s next, because if not, we allow them to take habits that do not suit them… I had to take care of a young man who was finishing high school. He attended with a psychologist because he called himself homosexual, and he didn’t feel comfortable, regularly among people who believe to have homosexuality they do not live in peace, regularly, in all cases that I have noticed,” the woman sustained.

About the adolescent’s sexual orientation, the instructor expressed that it was a “correctable confusion” which she “put an end to”.

The facilitator Rosa María speak.

“What happened is that in the bathroom of his house was a vibrator to give massages and he put it on and awakened that need for satisfaction. The psychologists at the highschool they were at sent him to me and he realized he was confused, that with those attitudes that he had he was motivated to masturbate continuously; it is necessary not to think of a punishment, but of the consequences of things that are done unduly”.

These workshops are replicated in and out of educational spaces in Guanajuato through different civil associations to which the state government has transferred these public funds. But it has also placed care for vulnerable population groups in their hands, and in exchange has given these organizations more than 81 million pesos between 2017 and 2023.

Under this scheme, the state administration in the charge of the PAN member Diego Sinhue Rodríguez has delegated its responsibility in the execution of different public policies to give attention to children and adolescents, women in vulnerable situations and people with addiction disorders. This is evidenced in the contracts and the registry of support from the state itself, consulted for this investigation.

Not only that. The government has multiplied the doors or instances of the administration to grant funds: the Secretary of Social and Human Development (Sedeshu), the System for the Integral Development of the Family (DIF), the Public Health Institute of the State of Guanajuato (ISAPEG), and the Administration and Investment Trust to finance works, infrastructure, projects and priority actions in matters of social development and public security (Fidesseg).

The Fidesseg was created in 2019, by the decree of Diego Sinhue Rodríguez’s government.

The allocation of public resources at the same time from different areas of the state government itself to the same civil organizations violates the rules of operation of social programs, as will be explained in this report.

Rehabilitation centers, assistance sites for children and adolescents -known as Casas Hogar- community work organizations, schools, including institutions where women are discouraged from exercising their legal right to termination of pregnancy, are on the lists of associations that receive government resources through Sedeshu.

An example is the Bajío Community Foundation, one of the organizations that works on projects of the Positive Parenting program in communities of four municipalities: Silao, Irapuato, Salamanca and Abasolo, and that only last year received 20 million pesos from the government.

New headquarters of the Bajío Community Foundation in the Industrial Park Marabis Castro del Río, in Irapuato, Guanajuato.
Photos: Juan José L. Plascencia.

This figure increases to 31.6 million if we take into account the resources provided between 2017 and 2022, through Sedeshu, the Secretary of Migration and Fidesseg.

These Catholic groups also charge for each program or study plan. For the elaboration of the Positive Parenting manuals, DIF paid 268 thousand pesos to institutions such as the Catholic University of Uruguay, Reaching U, Faith and Joy, the American Children's Foundation and the University of Montevideo.

The University of Montevideo is a private institution that has direct links to Opus Dei. It is inspired by the teachings of the founder of this Christian order, Saint Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer, as recognized in the postulates that it disseminates on its official page. Their mission is defined as follows: to carry out the Work of God in all aspects of their lives.

Other associations receive state funds to rehabilitate women in situations of addictions, activities that are instilled with criteria of Catholic morality. So it goes at the House of Jesus for Women’s Rehabilitation, where they work under the mission of “the preservation of girls, adolescents and young women in moral danger”, as stated in a notice hanging on a wall.

This center is located in the western region of the state of Guanajuato, on the highway that connects the municipality of Purísima del Rincón with the state of Jalisco. The headquarters is an estate with high pink walls, with a cyclonic mesh that could exceed five meters high. The wall hides this addiction care center run by Catholic nuns from the Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

María Teresa Velasco López is the nun who appears in the constitutive act as the legal representative of this exclusive rehabilitation center for women, and who at the same time leads the House of Social and Cultural Protection for the Girl, a female Casa Hogar in the municipality of San Francisco del Rincón, where she is identified as mother superior.

In the last six years, the Guanajuato government has granted 4.5 million pesos to this congregation through different agencies, according to information obtained via transparency. However, there is no public information about the impact of their social work.

The House of Jesus for Women’s Rehabilitation.
Photos: Juan José L. Plascencia

Another organization, the House of Jesus, has 28 centers nationwide that serve people in a state of vulnerability, among which they practice Catholic evangelization, according to the information they present on their website.

Compromised Freedom of Belief

The evangelizing approach of these associations, however, compromises fundamental rights such as religious freedom and the free development of personality, the first of them established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the second in the Constitution.

In an interview for this investigation, Tani Ramírez, executive director of the Network for the rights of Children in Mexico (la Red por los Derechos de Infancia en México, Redim, in spanish), assured that, although in assistance centers it is said that religious practice is optional, the day-to-day routine for children does not allow this to be a reality; that is, they are forced to participate.

The director of Redim detailed that this coercion towards religious practice violates article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: “everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”.

The Constitution also protects this right.

Ramírez assured that in general terms that children are not seen as people subject to rights and much less those that remain isolated in social assistance centers. For this reason, they are forced in a way to profess these doctrines, mostly Catholic.

“What free development of personality? The religious organizations might say it’s not required but of course it is. If everyone goes, it is not compulsory, but the structure of their lives and their days in there does not allow non-adherence, it is encouraged, it is rewarded, and that could even be violating articles from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that comes into question when with these types of organizations.”

Tania Ramírez speaks.

“It is very profitable because the pesos and economies to service these children are not few, they will not be transparent either, as if it were the State taking care of them, and well what you know in the most terrible cases not only were girls and boys used to maintain these homes, but they were used and violated and exploited in the worst of these cases,” she maintained.

She also added that there is a component of profitability for civil organizations that assume these special protection tasks: depending on the children and adolescents they have at their shelter, they receive more or less money.

In the city of León, Guanajuato, every may 24th a celebration of the Virgen de la Luz, a tradition rooted in the municipality for 291 years.
Photos: Juan José L. Plascencia.

In the information obtained by transparency and public records of Sedeshu, the criteria for the definition of amounts are not shown and the impact of the work of dozens of civil associations -effective or negative- is not disclosed.

During the investigation, 18 organizations were found to which the state grants designated resources to support state DIF organizations, the Secretary of Social Development and Fidesseg, which are run by Catholic congregations who carry out evangelization work in the care of the population entrusted to them.

Since its creation in 2019 and its execution in 2021, Fidesseg has turned into the most generous source of resources for religious civil society organizations. This trust was established by government decree, after an agreement between governor Diego Sinhue and leaders of different state business chambers.

Until February 2022, Fidesseg had a balance in its accounts of 266 million 764 thousand 985 pesos, but it is estimated that in 2023 so far, it has received 902 million more pesos. This information was presented by the MORENA opposition of the local congress, and it was obtained from the public account the executive presents quarterly to the legislature.

The state government decided to classify the information about the trust accounts.

Governor Diego Sinhue at the closing of the Planet Youth 2022 forum.
Photo: Juan José L.Plascencia

This fund has its origin in the Payroll Tax (ISN) that is collected from the payments of salaries and labor benefits to employers. In 2019, the encumbrance increased from 2.0% to 2.3% and it was established that the 0.3% difference would be applied to social development and public safety projects, through civil organizations, but allocated through projects by Fidesseg.

“Fidesseg was established with the objective of building and managing an autonomous patrimony designated to finance works, infrastructure, projects and priority actions in terms of social development and public safety for the State of Guanajuato,” is the purpose established in the trust’s operating rules.

Currently, the ISN is at 3%, for in 2021 the local Congress once again approved an increase through legal modifications.

Since 2021, the trust has awarded more than 621 million pesos to 155 projects of which only the list published on the Sedeshu web portal is known, although it does not detail what they consist of.

From the Fidesseg fund, from 2021 to date, 57 million 700 thousand pesos have been distributed to Casas Hogar in which they serve children and adolescents, and addiction rehabilitation centers, where evangelization work is carried out.

Sedeshu director Libia Denisse García and Monseñor Víctor Alejandro Aguilar, bishop from Celaya, Guanajuato.
Photo: Facebook.


Sedeshu has the Support to Promote Civil Society Organizations program (2017 and 2018), which since 2019 is called We Add to the Development of Society. Through this program, since 2017 more than 16.7 million pesos have been allocated to religious organizations that appear in the register of associations benefited by fiscal year obtained via transparency.

The other bags from which more than four pesos have been distributed have come out of the System for the Integral Development of the Family (DIF) and the State Institute of Public Health. The first dependency has delivered 2 million 725 thousand 382 pesos and the second one million 281 thousand pesos, all to a single organization that manages a center for the rehabilitation of women with addiction disorder.

On a visit to the place, it was confirmed that it is run by nuns from the congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Additionally, five organizations located in León that have received a grant from the municipal government that exceeds 1.4 million pesos are managed or directed by nuns or priests from diverse catholic congregations, like the Legionaries of Christ.

One of them is the O’Connel Foundation, directed by the priest Patrick O’Connel, member of the Legionaries in León.

Minors living in the Casa Hogar San Antonio, in the city of León, Guanajuato, accompanied by a priest.
Photo: Facebook.

This media repeatedly requested through messages a position on the distribution of resources from Libia García Muñoz Ledo, Sedeshu secretary, through their communication link, Miguel Áranda Mendiola. However, until the closure of this investigation, the official did not respond.

Ciudad de los Niños, history of abuse

La Ciudad de los Niños (Children’s City in english), a children’s and youth shelter founded in the municipality of Salamanca in 1978 by the priest Pedro Gutiérrez Farías, operated during 39 years until it was forced to close its doors after a federal court and the National Human Rights Commission corroborated a number of human rights violations of more than 300 children and adolescents, which had time ago denounced to DIF and the State Attorney.

Ciudad de los Niños shelter, in Salamanca, Guanajuato.
Photo: Archivo POPLab.mx/Edith Domínguez

In the last 13 years it remained active, between 2004 and 2017, the assistance center in Salamanca and its affiliates located in Irapuato and Moroleón -also created and directed by Pedro Gutiérrez and supervised by the state DIF- received from Guanajuato’s PAN government and municipal administrations more than 45 million pesos through the organizations run by the priest. This is revealed by journalist Kennia Velazquez’s report, published in 2017 with the auspices of the International Center for Journalists in alliance with Connectas.

The priest died in november 2020, while preparing for the reopening of the center for which, according to what he announced, he had already obtained new permits.

Disability Rights International (DRI), an international organization dedicated to promote the participation in society of people with disabilities, produced a report on violence in institutions across the country for children and adolescents, and adults with disabilities in 2020, and included this case that occurred in Guanajuato

The Priest Pedro Gutierrez Garías, founder of the Ciudad de los Niños shelter.
Photo: Archivo POPLab.mx/Edith Domínguez

In the review of particular cases, it found frequent patterns of violence, sexual abuse, forced sterilization, forced abortion and trafficking for labor or sexual purposes of children and adolescents in Casas Hogar shelters.

Lisbet Brizuela, DRI’s director for Mexico, exposed how harmful the institutionalization model is for children, despite the role of Casas Hogares being socially accepted, and even more so if they are directed by religious people, as it supposes a guarantee of good treatment.

However, children and adolescents are denied the right to live in family and in community, and they are also exposed to cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment and even torture.

Lisbet Brizuela speaks.

“These are cases that are repeated over and over again; we had Casitas del Sur, Mamá Rosa, Casa Esperanza, Ciudad de los Niños in Salamanca, Fabriles in Nuevo León recently. That is to say, it’s over and over and over again that we find there are children and adolescents who are victims of physical abuse, of sexual abuse, who are victims of trafficking for sexual purporses, for labor purposes, illegal adoptions, unwanted pregnancies, forced abortions in adolescents, terrible beatings, corporal punishment, use of the isolation room, and when we talk about children with disabilities is even worse, because many of these children cannot verbalize what is happening to them,” she highlighted.

Lisbet Brizuela added the component of trauma suffered by children when they are separated from their families and forced to live segregated, considering that their isolation is a way to help them. Likewise, they are forced to have a religión.

“They are evangelized under certain religious standards, that you do not know if they chose it, if they did not choose it, or if it’s only because they are there and so everyone has to pray the same, do the same, go to mass. What is their possibility to choose over their religion? It’s null too,” she stressed.

Brizuela insisted on the lack of transparency with which these institutions that house, according to INEGI figures, more than 24 thousand homeless children nationwide, without considering the high black figure that could be due to the irregularity in which some Casas Hogar are found.

In a public way, the governor has exhibited his alliance with different religious groups for them to actively participate in the design and application of public policies of a social nature.

Eight National Congress on Religious Freedom.
Photos: Juan José L. Plascencia

During the eight Congress on Religious Freedom, held in the city of León last June 28th, the president described a multitude of congregations -mainly Catholic, Christian and Evangelical- as fundamental pillars in the design and execution of public social policies.

“As a state government we recognize religious freedom, as a part of the fundamental rights of the person, but we also see it as one of the pillars on which the strategies for the regeneration of the social fabric rest,” he mentioned.

The event was broadcast by the public television station of the state government -TV4- through a special production. This outlet broadcasts weekly Sunday masses since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Click here to read Chapter II.:

Lots of money, little surveillance (The state opens several bags for associations but violates its rules)

Consult the data obtained through the National Transparency Platform here

A special of:

This investigation was conducted with the support of the Consortium to Support Regional Journalism in Latin America (CAPIR) led by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR).

  • Investigation:
  • Melissa Esquivias
  • Yajaira Gasca
  • Data collection:
  • Melissa Esquivias
  • Yajaira Gasca
  • Audiovisual production:
  • Juan José L. Plascencia
  • Web design and development:
  • Nicolás Aranda
  • Miguel Cabrera
  • Editors:
  • Verónica Espinosa
  • Daniel Moreno
  • Translation:
  • Amalia Jiménez

(Original text) August 30, 2023
(Translation) September 20, 2023