According to the top local authority, the New Jerusalem community, which settled some 35 years ago in the Turicato municipality of Michoacan state believing it to be hallowed ground, is mostly made up of people from other states with a "low educational profile."

The "dissident Catholic sect" seeks to save "traditional religious life" by having Mass said in Latin, singing night and day, and being governed by rules that they themselves created and are enforced by so-called "celestial police" who have no legal authorization to do so, and who at times "violate" constitutional rights, Barrera said.

"It's impossible to walk around freely, there are patrols that prevent it. People are detained - not long ago they locked up a man and his girlfriend who had committed no infraction and fined them," he said.

A total of some 2,500 people live in New Jerusalem, but over the past six years some 40 percent of the flock decided to shed traditionalist customs, which, according to the mayor, has created conflicts within the community.

The latest result was the demolition last week of six classrooms, six bathrooms and all the furnishings of two schools, after which the buildings were burned down.

The destruction left the community without any educational centers - one had been a kindergarten and the other a primary school - since they had been considered, according to Barrera, "schools of the devil."

"The idea is ridiculous. To me it's perfectly clear that educational institutions form minds that are analytical, critical and with hopes of a better life," so leaders of the sect "see themselves losing any chance of controlling the inhabitants of New Jerusalem the way they want to if the people become educated," he said.