Pope Condemns Nicaragua’s Persecution of the Church
In his widely-watched annual address from the Vatican, Pope Francis highlighted and condemned Nicaragua’s Ortega regime for its ongoing and severe persecution of the Catholic church. The Vatican reported on Monday: at least 14 priests, two seminarians and a Bishop were arrested in Nicaragua in recent days, including following Sunday Mass on New Year’s Eve. Though notable for its timing on a holiday and for the number and profile of the arrested, the incident is but the latest in a long string of arrests and expulsions carried out by the Ortega government.
In July 2022, Nicaragua expelled 18 nuns from the Missionaries of Charity order, founded by Mother Theresa and active in Nicaragua since 1988. According to the BBC, the nuns were bussed under police escort to the country’s southern border and made to walk across into Costa Rica. The Missionaries of Charity were stripped of their legal status in late June, an administrative measure that laid the groundwork for their later expulsion.
Though thousands of nongovernmental organizations have lost their legal status due to a murky 2018 law on funding, the Catholic church has been particularly targeted due to its outspoken criticism of the regime’s sordid human rights record and its decision to shelter student protestors in 2019.
Earlier in 2022, the Ortega government expelled the Vatican’s ambassador to Nicaragua in a move that drew pointed condemnation from the church.
The U.S. Department of State added Nicaragua to the Special Watchlist (SWL) of countries with particularly severe violations of religious freedom in 2019, a designation that continued until 2022 when it was raised to the Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) list. The latter designation indicates increased concern about the state of religious freedom in Nicaragua and normally carries with it certain legislatively mandated consequences in the form of sanctions.
“Catholic clergy and laity continued to experience government harassment,” said a 2022 State Department publication citing media reports, “including slander, arbitrary investigations by government agencies based on charges that clergy and laity said were unfounded, withholding of tax exemptions, and denial of religious services for political prisoners.”