Imprisonment, exile and banishment of priests and other religious have become commonplace in this offensive
Fabián Medina Sánchezfrom Managua, Nicaragua
< /p>In September of this year, the Nicaraguan Police prohibited the departure of the popular procession of San Jerónimo, in Masaya. (Photo EFE)
In 2022 there was an unprecedented peak of attacks by the regime of Daniel Ortega against the Catholic Church in Nicaragua, according to a study presented this week by independent researcher Marta Patricia Molina.
“The attacks on the church are increasing, and this is because the church as an institution is the last bastion that has remained in the civic struggle in Nicaragua and the dictatorship is seeing it as a threat, because the priests and bishops continue to denounce the arbitrariness that is being committed”, explains Molina.
According to this report, from 2018 to October 2022 there have been 396 attacks against the Catholic Church in Nicaragua, of which 127 occurred this year. The author notes that from 2018, when there were massive protest marches against the Ortega regime, until 2021 there was a decrease in aggressions. However, from 2022 there was an unusual increase that made it the worst year for the Catholic Church in the country.
The count of attacks is made, explains the researcher, based on proven facts reported by the media, and they range from offensive paintings in temples, desecration and insults, to death threats, armed attacks, imprisonment, exile of religious, and prohibition of religious activities, among others.
Molina says, one of the attacks that most impressed her was the attack with sulfuric acid suffered by the priest Mario Guevara, while attending confessions in the Managua Cathedral, on December 5, 2018. “For me it was the most painful event because he is a priest that I personally know and I went to visit in his serious situation. I saw how his entire face, arms and legs were damaged.”
On December 5, 2018, the priest Mario Guevara was attacked by a young woman of Russian origin with sulfuric acid while listening to confessions in the Managua cathedral.
This year there was also a noticeable change in the type of aggressions. “The way they are attacking is different, before they were more focused on robberies, desecration, desecration and now they are focusing on criminal proceedings, the closure of the media and Catholic non-profit organizations,” he says.
The banishment and exile of religious has been one of the most common reprisals of the regime. There is a record of 11 exiled religious, one of them is the auxiliary bishop of Managua, Monsignor Silvio Báez. Two other religious have been expelled from the country: the then apostolic nuncio Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag, on March 6 of this year, and the priest Luis Carrillo, on October 16, 2020.
Eight other priests have been prevented from entering Nicaragua and one more was prevented from leaving the country.
Ten religious have been imprisoned, seven of them are priests, two seminarians and one deacon. Two of the priests are already serving sentences imposed by a judge. “All of their constitutional guarantees and due process have been violated,” the report notes.
The document presents some testimonies of priests imprisoned and later expelled from the country. “You are going to leave here today, and I want you to thank the commander (Daniel Ortega) and the companion (Rosario Murillo), because they respect the priests. Because if it were up to me, you would leave here in a black bag,” a police officer would have told a priest who requested anonymity. “After that he told me:“ take your passport ”. He opened the door and threw him to the ground. I picked it up. Then, he yelled at me: “When you come back, if that happens, you already know that you get out of here in two ways: either in a bag or straight to jail.”
On March 6, the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo expelled from the country the nuncio Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag, whom we see in the photograph when he presented his credentials in June 2018. (Photo 19 Digital)
The report classifies the Bishop of Matagalpa, Monsignor Rolando Álvarez as “kidnapped”, who has been missing for more than a hundred days, after the police raided the Episcopal Palace of Matagalpa where he lived and took him to Managua under “domiciliary retention”, a figure that does not exist in the Penal Code of Nicaragua. Since then his whereabouts have been unknown. The Prosecutor's Office has not initiated proceedings against the bishop.
The Archbishop of Managua, Cardenal Leopoldo Brenes, has said that he visited Álvarez and limited himself to declaring that “it's fine”, without specifying where it is and the conditions of its retention.
Molina points out that the number of attacks on the Catholic Church in Nicaragua could be higher than the one recorded in the report because many religious choose not to denounce. “Most priests and bishops are opting for silence and complaints are made public when social pressure demands it. I know of robberies, desecrations, threats against priests that they have chosen not to report and have asked that they not be included in this report. I have to respect that.”
The United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF6), which is a bipartisan commission of the United States federal government, recommended in its 2022 annual report, “to keep Nicaragua on the special watch list of the United States Department of State United for committing or tolerating serious violations of religious freedom in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act that monitors the universal right to freedom of religion or worship abroad.”
It also advocates “imposing specific sanctions on Nicaraguan government agencies and officials responsible for violence and other punitive actions against places of worship, religious leaders, and organizations by freezing the assets of those individuals and/or prohibiting their entry into the United States under financial and financial rights related to human rights.”
< /p>The Bishop of Matagalpa, Monsignor Rolando Álvarez, has been “kidnapped” for more than a hundred days, according to the report.
This Wednesday the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua issued an “Advent Message 2022” in which it expressed its joy at “the growing recovery of face-to-face attendance in our pastoral activities” and its concern for “the social, political and economic events of our homeland”. , without mentioning the attacks on the Church and the case of Monsignor Álvarez, whose signature should be at the end of the communiqué, next to the other bishops.
“I am concerned about the silence of the Episcopal Conference. As a Catholic, I would like to see a more active Episcopal Conference denouncing all the arbitrariness against the Catholic Church and calling things by their name”, says researcher Molina.
He says, however, that even with the blows received, he sees a “strengthened” church that is acting prudently. “This prudence is justified because the person who should be the guarantor and protector of human rights is precisely the one who is violating them and at this moment the Church is facing a disastrous, murderous and criminal dictatorship,” he affirms.