Fr Alejo Nabor Jimenez Juarez and Fr Jose Alfredo Juarez de la Cruz were dragged at gunpoint out of a church in Poza Rica

Two priests were kidnapped and killed in the Mexican state of Veracruz, raising the death toll of prelates murdered in Mexico to 14 in less than four years.

Fr Alejo Nabor Jimenez Juarez and Fr Jose Alfredo Juarez de la Cruz were dragged at gunpoint out of Our Lady of Fatima Parish Church in Poza Rica, a Gulf Coast oil city consumed by crime in recent years, the Diocese of Papantla confirmed in a statement.

Media reported the men were found on September 19, one day after their abduction, alongside a highway with their hands and feet bound. They were beaten and had gunshot wounds, according to media reports.

A driver employed by the parish was also abducted, Mexican media reported, but was found unharmed.

State officials said on September 20 that five men participated in the abductions and one of the suspect’s identities was known. Robbery of a church building fund was cited as a motive, Veracruz media outlet Plumas Libres reported.

“In these moments of pain, impotence and tragedy provoked by violence, we raise our prayers to the heavens for the eternal rest of our brothers and implore to the Lord the conversion of the aggressors. Of the authorities, we await the clarification of the acts and the application of those responsible,” the Mexican bishops’ conference said in a statement.

Violence has struck Veracruz clergy previously. In 2013, two priests in the Diocese of Tuxpan were murdered in their parish.