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Oppression continues: police crack down on Nicaraguan Christians

The police turned up at a Catholic church near the Nicaraguan capital Managua two days after a Sunday sermon had been delivered. The officers played an audio clip of a prayer "for our priests" and warned the clergy: "These kinds of things are dangerous!"

A priest who was at the Sunday service when the police arrived, and asked not to be identified for fear of arrest, said:

“We tried to explain that this is just normal prayer, nothing to do with politics. But they already have proof against us that they can manipulate however they like.”

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s five-year campaign against the Catholic church has escalated since February. It took a turn for the worse after Pope Francis condemned Nicaragua’s government as a “gross dictatorship” and Ortega responded by severing ties with the Vatican.  There have been reports of police surveillance of clergy, police beatings; arrests and expulsions of priests and nuns as well as seizures of church-owned properties.

The Nicaraguan government launched a money laundering investigation in May 2023. They ordered bishops and Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes to turn over financial documents. They also froze all church bank accounts, which made it difficult to buy food and other necessities for parishes.

Vatican officials see the conflict in Nicaragua as one of the worst since the Cold War, when many communist countries in Eastern Europe persecuted the church. Even though negotiations between the Nicaraguan government and the church are ongoing, senior Mexican Bishop Ramon Castro is not optimistic about the outcome.

He said “It’s very probable that we’re going to have to pass through more difficult moments.” 

One of the victims, Bishop Alvarez, who criticized Ortega, was accused of treason, stripped of his citizenship and sentenced to 26 years in prison, without a trial this February.  According to the government, he was “the author of the crimes of damaging national integration, propagation of false news through information and communication technologies, aggravated obstruction of functions and disobedience or contempt of authority.” 

According to Martha Patricia Molina, an exiled Nicaraguan researcher and lawyer, at least four priests have been placed under house arrest since May 23. Seven priests have been expelled, six priests have fled the country, while two others have been denied re-entry so far this year. A group of Brazilian nuns from the diocese of Leon were ordered to leave the country in June.

President Ortega came to power in 1979 after overthrowing a right-wing dictatorship. He launched an offensive against the church in the 1980s. One of his main goals is to silence priests.

Erick Diaz, 33, a Nicaraguan priest in exile in Chicago, said: “Priests inside Nicaragua must be silent. They can’t even mention the name of the bishop because the police will come after you and they can put you in jail or force you into exile”.




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