In the last four years – up to May 2022 – 190 cases of attacks against the Catholic Church in Nicaragua have been registered, according to the study Nicaragua: a persecuted Church?, which systematizes the different types of attacks suffered by the religious institution since 2018, when they opened their temples to protect citizens from government repression and denounced the massacre that left 355 people dead in civic protests, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ( IACHR).
In the report prepared by lawyer Martha Patricia Molina, member of the Pro Transparency and Anti-Corruption Observatory, the attacks were classified into seven categories: graffiti on the walls and anonymous messages in Catholic temples; attacks, threats and exiles against priests, bishops and lay Catholics; obstacles to non-profit organizations (NPOs) of the Catholic Church; aggressive messages against priests and religious by President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo; desecration of temples; flights and others.
Attacks against priests, bishops and nuns represent 37% of hostilities against the Catholic Church, followed by desecrations of temples, which constitute 19% of the facts systematized through journalistic publications based on denunciations made by priests or authorities of the dioceses, explained the researcher Molina.
Molina clarifies in the text that it cannot be said that all the attacks compiled in the study were planned and carried out by supporters of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, but neither can it be ruled out, mainly because “the offensive and threatening language of the presidential couple against the Catholic hierarchy have become more and more evident and frequent, and the actions of certain public institutions against the charitable work of the Church have multiplied”.
The Ortega regime’s crusade against the Catholic Church gained momentum from 2018. Ortega and Murillo themselves called the bishops “terrorists”, “putschists” and “sons of the devil” and with their propaganda machinery, they have devised defamatory campaigns against priests acclaimed by the people for their prophetic voice, such as the Auxiliary Bishop of Managua, Silvio Baez, exiled since 2019, for his own safety.
“What we observe after 2018 is that everything that is done is with wickedness, with hatred, in order to destroy everything that signifies religiosity or Catholicism in the country, and why they are doing it, for the simple and straightforward reason , that the bishops and priests have decided to open the temples of their parishes to house all those people who have been affected in one way or another by the current regime,” explains Molina.
2019: the most disastrous year for the Church
The year with the highest assault record was 2019, with 48% of cases, followed by 2018 with 46%; 2020 with 40%, and 2021 with 35%. However, Molina does not rule out that 2022 could exceed the number of attacks that occurred last year.
In 2019, police besieged the San Miguel church for more than a week, while parish priest Edwing Román and mothers of political prisoners were inside, without access to food and under threat. That same year, Ortega fanatics attempted to desecrate San Juan Bautista Church, Masaya, while priest Harving Padilla was celebrating mass. Parishioners took it upon themselves to fight off the horde of Ortega fanatics and secured the church doors with the pews as they lived through moments of terror.
The study also revealed that the Archdiocese of Managua, which includes in addition to the capital, Masaya and Carazo, was the most attacked, followed by the Diocese of Matagalpa and Estelí, and to a lesser extent, the Diocese of León. .
Among the personalities most attacked are the auxiliary bishop of Managua, Monsignor Silvio Báez; Msgr. Rolando José Álvarez, bishop of the diocese of Matagalpa and apostolic administrator of the diocese of Estelí; Monsignor Juan Abelardo Mata, who until 2021 was in charge of the Diocese of Estelí and priest Vicente Martínez, parish priest of Santa Lucía Church in Ciudad Darío, Matagalpa.
Molina points out that the level of hostility against priests and bishops that is occurring has never been seen before, and does not rule out further escalation.
The threat of imprisonment
The arrest of priest Manuel Salvador Garcia was the latest act of persecution against the Church in recent weeks, which had previously forced Bishop Alvarez to take refuge in a church in Managua, where he was surrounded for three days by posts of police control. Meanwhile, in Masaya, Father Harving Padilla remained in the parish as a prison, due to the police force installed around the San Juan Bautista church. The two priests were evacuated from the churches with the support of other church members.
Father Garcia’s case was publicized by pro-government media, which launched a smear campaign. A woman identified as Martha Candelaria Rivas Hernández, 44, a resident of Diriá, Granada, accused the priest of beating her on the night of May 30, without evidence.
“We have already been saying it since the signing of this document in the National Assembly, a few weeks ago, that it was the prelude to judging and prosecuting priests and bishops”, warns Molina.
The researcher refers to a report approved by the deputies of Ortega that opens the door to the criminalization of priests, so she warns that cases like that of the priest García could be repeated. Molina points out that after 2018, “all respect” and “consideration” for priests and citizens “was lost.”
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff.