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Sandinista crackdown on Catholic Church continues

As anti-Catholic persecution goes on in Nicaragua, U.S. bishops reaffirm their solidarity with the Nicaraguan Church and call on the international community to continue to work for the restoration of peace in the Latin American country.

By Lisa Zengarini

President Daniel Ortega’s authoritarian regime continues its crackdown and attacks against the Catholic Church in Nicaragua, despite international outcry from the UN, Churches and human rights organizations worldwide.

Two more nuns and a priest expelled

After banning outdoor Holy Week celebrations due to alleged security concerns, and closing the Vatican nunciature in Managua and the Nicaraguan Embassy to the Holy See in Rome in March, in recent days the Government has expelled two more religious women and a Panamanian Claretian missionary.

Relations between the Nicaraguan Government and the Church have been strained since April 2018, when a wave of anti-regime protests was brutally suppressed by Nicaraguan authorities, and have further worsened after the controversial 2021 elections which confirmed President Ortega for another mandate. 

The Sandinista leader  has repeatedly accused the bishops of conspiring against him.

The imprisonment of Bishop Rolando Álvarez 

Since the outbreak of the crisis, the Church, which was banned from mediating, has been the target of several attacks and desecrations, as well as harassment, intimidations and even expulsions of bishops, priests and religious.

In 2019 the auxiliary Bishop of Managua Silvio José Báez was forced into exile and, in  March 2022 , the Apostolic Nuncio to Nicaragua, Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw, was expelled as “persona non grata”.

Tensions sky-rocked again in February when Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa was sentenced to more than 26 years imprisonment and stripped off his citizenship on charges of treason, undermining national integrity and spreading false news, after he declined to be expelled to the United States along with other 222 detained opponents.

Last week, in a televised address on the occasion of the National Day of Peace, Ortega again violently accused the Nicaraguan Bishops’ Conference (CEN) and the Vatican, of being “demons” and “criminals”, blaming them for the April 2018 protests.

“There we found the same descendants of Cain, conspiring against their brothers, serving emperors, Yankee and European empires, and even the leaders of the Church”, he  said, accusing Catholic priests of “manipulating Christ”.

Referring to the recent ban on the outdoor Easter celebrations, the Sandinista leader also reiterated that the measure was decided to prevent an alleged popular uprising against him.

U.S. Bishops’ solidarity with the Church in Nicaragua

The ongoing anti-Catholic crackdown in Nicaragua continues to be a matter of great concern also for the bishops of the United States.

In a statement released last week, the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, Bishop David J. Malloy, reaffirmed their “unwavering solidarity” with the Nicaraguan Church.

“Despite these extreme hardships, the Nicaraguan faithful, in union with their bishops and priests, have resiliently borne witness to the power of Christ’s resurrection.”

The statement called on the United States government and the entire international community “to continue to work for the release of Bishop Álvarez, and for a restoration of peace and the rule of law” in the country.

39 people arrested and  arbitrarily detained in April

According to a report released on Friday, 21 April, by the non-governmental organization Monitoreo Azul y Blanco, in April Nicaraguan police arrested 39 people, mostly political opponents and Catholic parishioners, who are arbitrarily detained in custody.  The report also confirmed the expulsion of Panamanian priest Donaciano Alarcón, after police authorities accused him of speaking out in favour of Bishop Álvarez.

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