There are six things you should be aware of regarding Nicaragua’s persecution of the Catholic Church.

There are six things you should be aware of regarding Nicaragua’s persecution of the Catholic Church.

The church leader was confined to his residence until February 10, when he received a 26-year and four-month prison sentence on charges of “treason.” A day prior, Álvarez declined to join 222 other political detainees, including priests, a deacon, and seminarians, in leaving the country for the United States during their deportation by the dictatorship.

The verdict stirred significant worry within Pope Francis, who dedicated a brief message to the incarcerated bishop during the Angelus two days following the sentencing.

Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa, Nicaragua, faced accusations from the Nicaraguan dictatorship on January 10, 2023. His current whereabouts indicate that he is held at La Modelo prison. In early July, an attempt was made to secure his release, yet negotiations between the regime and the Church in Nicaragua fell through, leading to his return to prison.

On August 19, a year after the bishop’s forceful arrest, the U.S. State Department demanded his immediate release. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights for Central America and the English Caribbean (OHCHR) condemned the ongoing violations of Álvarez’s human rights. These include denied access to medical care and essential medications, his solitary confinement since being detained at La Modelo prison, and restricted family visits.

In a report on the persecuted Church, as outlined by Molina, there have been 193 instances of attacks against bishops, priests, deacons, seminarians, and women religious since the onset of the 2018 crisis. These attacks encompass continuous surveillance, threats, attempted murder, physical assaults, legal actions, and exile.

According to the report, updated to March of the current year, one bishop (Silvio Báez), thirteen priests, and two deacons were compelled into exile. Furthermore, the apostolic nuncio and two priests were expelled, while five priests, a deacon, and two seminarians faced exile.

Amidst these circumstances, concerns arise about the extent of religious freedom for Catholics in Nicaragua. Molina elaborates that parishes are continuously under the watch of infiltrators, often affiliated with the Council of Citizen Power, responsible for monitoring opponents and compiling lists shared with the police.

Even though Catholics can partake in Masses and sacraments like baptisms and marriages, their activities are consistently monitored. Priests’ homilies are recorded and analyzed, with the analysis conducted at El Carmen, the residence of the dictatorial couple Ortega-Murillo.

In terms of processions, Molina reports that more than 3,176 processions were prohibited in the streets during Holy Week of 2023, resulting in the shift of these expressions of faith to indoor church spaces.

On Saturday, August 13, 2022, a concise procession featuring the Virgin of Fatima took place in the atrium of the Cathedral of Managua, Nicaragua, marking the closure of a Marian congress. A more extensive procession had been planned but was forbidden by President Daniel Ortega’s regime.

Despite reactions from the faithful, similar to those observed during the Virgin of Mercy procession in 2022, the truth remains that the regime employs its available resources to hinder such events.

Molina clarified that the prohibition of street processions was imposed prior to and following Holy Week 2023. While there were occasional exceptions, like the St. Dominic celebration in Managua, these were permitted due to the event being highly attended and featuring activities involving alcohol consumption and revelry.

“So, for tourism reasons, that procession was allowed, but the rest of them are being prohibited,” she said.

The Nicaraguan researcher additionally pointed out that authorities aim to avoid documenting the prohibitions, opting instead for “courtesy visits” during which they verbally communicate to the parish priests that “they are not allowed to conduct the processions.”

“It has also been forbidden to mention Bishop Rolando Álvarez in Masses and in prayers,” Molina said. She reported that lay groups, priests, and seminarians secretly pray for the bishop, “because whoever mentions him in the homily, at Mass … is immediately visited by the police” and may even be arrested.

  1. Official Statements from the Nicaraguan Bishops

The Nicaraguan Bishops’ Conference is recognized for its active involvement in national affairs and has issued statements on various occasions, particularly concerning elections and other significant public events.

However, when their positions have clashed with the regime’s preferences, the dictatorship has responded by making accusations and launching verbal attacks.

Despite these circumstances, in November 2021, the Church reaffirmed its willingness to mediate between the opposition and the regime as a means to resolve the political crisis. Unfortunately, this offer was rejected by Ortega.

In relation to Álvarez’s predicament, the bishops released a statement on August 20, 2022, the day following his forceful removal from the diocesan chancery in Matagalpa. In the statement, they expressed deep distress over the “wound” inflicted upon the Church in Nicaragua due to these events.

The ACN Report

On June 22, the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) presented its 2023 Report on Religious Freedom, observing that the persecution of the Church in Nicaragua is “politically motivated rather than religious.”

This perspective arises because since the onset of the current crisis in 2018, “the Church has openly criticized any suppression of civil liberties and the violation of human rights within the nation.”

The ACN report on Nicaragua highlights a visible deterioration in religious freedom within the Central American country.

The report concludes with a somber and pessimistic assessment of the prospects for human rights, including religious freedom.

This narrative was initially published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, and has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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