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Exiles, arrests and 740 attacks: Ortega and Murillo’s persecution against the Catholic Church worsens in Nicaragua

The police of the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo intercepted Bishop Isidro del Carmen Mora Ortega on Wednesday, December 20, when he was on his way to confirm 230 parishioners in the Santa Cruz parish, located in the municipality of La Cruz de Río Grande, a remote municipality in the Southern Caribbean of Nicaragua. The religious man was immediately arrested and his whereabouts are still unknown. This is the latest episode of a persecution that has intensified this year. Since 2018, the year of massive protests against the Government, the Catholic Church in Nicaragua has suffered 740 attacks by the Sandinista apparatus, according to the count of lawyer Martha Patricia Molina.

“In 2023 alone, 275 attacks were carried out. We can describe this last year as the one with the most attacks against the Church during the recent five-year period,” Molina, author of the report, explains to EL PAÍS. Nicaragua, a persecuted church. Besides, “176 religious men and women are not exercising their ministry in Nicaragua because they were expelled, were prohibited from entering, or were sent into exile.”

Bishop Isidro Mora, arrested by the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.Diocese of Granada-Nicaragua

The most recent banishment of priests occurred last October, when the Central American country’s regime removed a dozen priests it held as political prisoners from its prisons and sent them on a plane to Rome. However, the expulsion of religious begins in 2018, when the Ortega-Murillo family forced the exile of the auxiliary bishop of Managua, Monsignor Silvio Báez, one of the most critical pastoral voices against the authoritarian drift and human rights violations in Nicaragua. Father Edwin Román, a parish priest who was key in protecting citizens from repression in the city of Masaya during the 2018 protests, was also exiled.

The Government also fired the Vatican nuncio in March 2022, Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag. The Holy See described the expulsion of its representative in Nicaragua as surprising and painful. From that moment on, the relationship between Managua and the Vatican was in decline, to the point that last March the Ortega-Murillos decided to “suspend diplomatic relations.” Religious persecution even forced Pope Francis to break his neutral stance with countries and compared current Sandinismo to “a Hitler dictatorship.” “With great respect, I have no choice but to think of an imbalance in the person he leads,” stated the Pontiff, which further unleashed the anger of the presidential couple.

All types of attacks and desecrations

In a timeline made by EL PAÍS on the persecution against Catholicism, there are attacks against priests and bishops, desecrations of churches, closures of media outlets and NGOs managed by the dioceses, freezing of bank accounts and a sustained narrative against the Catholicism and its hierarchs. For example, on January 24, 2022, the “co-president” Rosario Murillo He attacked the priests, calling them “retarded and backward” who “disguise themselves with masks and supposedly elegant costumes.”

“The figures before 2022 range between 55 and 84 attacks. Subsequently, the year 2022 was classified as the most disastrous year against the Catholic Church, since 171 attacks were committed, without imagining that this year 2023 was going to be more catastrophic than 2022, since in this period 275 attacks have already been committed against it. of the religious institution,” says lawyer Molina.

In Holy Week 2023, The regime’s police unleashed a hunt for believers and priests. However, the most striking thing was the express prohibition of holding processions in the country. The measure has been replicated later, as happened with the processions of the Conception of Mary in early December, when Nicaragua celebrates the mother of Jesus as its national patron.

People participate in a procession for Holy Week, in March 2023 in Managua.
People participate in a procession for Holy Week, in March 2023 in Managua.Inti Ocon (AP)

“To date, a total of 3,639 popular pious expressions, that is, processions, have been banned throughout the country,” says Molina. “The objective of this persecution is always the same: to completely disappear the Catholic Church of Nicaragua, because the priests and bishops have not knelt to the dictatorship nor have they become accomplices and cronies, because that is what they seek. They do not want those prophetic voices that are reminding them at every moment, through the promulgation of the word and the gospel, of all the criminal acts that the dictatorship has been committing. So, since they have not managed to bring the bishops and priests to their knees to the dictatorial project that they have, the objective is to annihilate Catholicism to create their own religion, in which the gods are Daniel Ortega and his wife.

The bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua tried to mediate in the sociopolitical crisis of 2018 and then, after the increase in government brutality at the hands of police and paramilitary groups, decided to show solidarity and side with the victims. The ruling party did not forgive that decision and on July 19, 2018, in the middle of “operation cleanup”—as the massacres perpetrated by the paramilitaries are known—Ortega accused the bishops in public of being “coup plotters.” Since then the escalation against the Catholic Church has not calmed down.

Despite the regime’s crusade against Catholicism, the country’s main denomination, believers continue to regularly attend churches. However, self-censorship prevails. Lawyer Molina recognizes that the parishioner is afraid, but they have decided to perform their rites within the walls of the temples.

“Religious vocations also continue to be valid and new priests are always being trained. That impact that the dictatorship wanted, which is for the parishioners to turn their backs on the Catholic Church, because they have not achieved it and they are not going to achieve it either,” says lawyer Molina freely only because she is in exile.

Meanwhile, among many faithful, especially in rural parishes, terror reigns. “We don’t know anything about the monsignor and we fear that they have transferred him to the El Chipote prison, and you know: in that place they torture,” a woman from the diocese of Siuna, administered by Bishop Isidro Mora, the last one, tells EL PAÍS. arrested. “Monsignor’s sin,” he continues, was mentioning in a homily Rolando Álvarez, the first bishop arrested and sentenced to 26 years in prison by the Sandinista regime. “He said that the bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua were praying for Bishop Álvarez and the day after that, well, they took him kidnapped. The Government does not want anyone to denounce what happens to us Catholics,” he laments after accepting a call under the condition of anonymity.

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