2023: the “most dismal year” for attacks on the Catholic Church

At least eight priests captured between May and October of this year are currently in El Chipote prison. A report documenting attacks on the Catholic Church reveals that 2023 has been “the most dismal year” in terms of suffering hostilities from the Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo regime. In total, 667 aggressions have been recorded since the political crisis began in April 2018

Police surround the church of San Jeronimo in Masaya. EFE.

The Nicaraguan police transferred this weekend eight priests to the Judicial Assistance Directorate (DAJ), known as El Chipote, a center reported for the torture of prisoners. The religious were arrested between May and October, in the midst of a wave of arrests and attacks against members of the Catholic Church which has increased this year. 

According to the IV installment of the report “Nicaragua, a persecuted Church?“,in the first eight months of this year (between January and August 2023) 205 attacks against the Catholic Church were recorded, the highest figure in the last five years, since this systematization of data began in the wake of the political crisis of 2018.

Last year, it had already been catalogued by the author of this study, lawyer Martha Patricia Molina, as a “disastrous year for the Church” due to the 171 attacks recorded. However, 2023 is a “more dismal year” than the previous ones. 

214 attacks against religious

2023: the
Churches are besieged by the regime’s police and Sandinista sympathizers to intimidate worshippers. Divergentes | EFE/ Archive.

In total, since the 2018 crisis, when hostilities against the Church began, 667 aggressions have been recorded. In this record, 214 aggressions against religious (Apostolic Nuncio, bishops, priests, religious, deacons, seminarians) are counted, these were attacked, threatened with death, defamed, intimidated and prevented from carrying out their pastoral activity.

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There were 117 attacks on churches, including permanent surveillance, damage to the interior of the churches, gunshots and mortars, exorbitant charges and unjustifiable cuts in basic services, fires, looting, suspension of masses, confiscations and immobilization of bank accounts. “The economic impact caused by these attacks is incalculable,” the report cites. 

The document of more than 300 pages systematizes other aggressions such as the impediment of charitable, educational and pastoral religious activities; closures of Catholic media; graffiti and messages of hatred, thefts and profanations, repression of religious people, and prohibition of processions and rural activities. 

Of the eight Dioceses that exist in Nicaragua, the Diocese of Managua suffered 242 attacks, the highest number recorded since the beginning of the police state in 2018.  

The Diocese with the most attacks is that of Matagalpa, with 144 hostilities suffered. The bishop of this Diocese, Rolando Álvarez, has been in prison since last year, was sentenced to 26 years in prison, and was denationalized by the Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo regime. 

Molina, author of the study, points out that the data presented on the aggressions against the Dioceses were obtained from the official web page of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua (CEN). However, the specialist said she is aware that the number of aggressions is higher according to field visits and observations. 

Eight priests in El Chipote

Régimen tras la aniquilación de la Iglesia Católica
Attacks include the fire at the Sangre de Cristo, Managua Cathedral in July 2020. Photo: Divergentes | Archive

The arrests of the six priests, carried out between the first and the ninth of October, are not registered in the study. The sources consulted say that the priests were transferred to the facilities of the National Seminary Nuestra Señora de Fátima, in Managua, where they remained in ” house arrest”. 

The captured priests were Julio Ricardo Norori and Iván Centeno, both from Estelí; Cristóbal Gadea, from Jinotega; Álvaro Toledo and Yessner Pineda, from Ocotal, and Ramón Angulo Reyes, from El Rama. All of them were transferred to El Chipote, together with the priests Pastor Eugenio Rodríguez Benavides and Osman Amador Guillén, both from Estelí, who had also been staying at the Seminary in Managua for weeks.

Of the priests Fernando Zamora Silva, from Siuna, and Jaime Iván Montecinos Sauceda, from Matagalpa, there is no precise information as to where they are being held. 

In total, 13 priests have been imprisoned by the Ortega-Murillo regime. Three of them have been convicted, including the bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando Álvarez. 

Catholic Church, “moral force” in the face of authoritarianism

Jesuit priest José María Tojeira, spokesman for the Jesuits in Central America, writes in the prologue of the report that the persecution of the Church is taking place in a context of persecution of any critical thinking about the problems and needs of the country. 

“Instilling fear, silencing voices, leaving without work or property, spying, mistreating relatives of opponents, disappearing people, is a frequent part of repression. Imprisonment, banishment and even denationalization are already part of the strategy”, adds Tojeira.

The religious considers that after eliminating the opponents, “the Catholic Church and some evangelical churches remained as the only institutionalized moral force capable of publicly asserting the truth in the face of an authoritarian and repressive government”.

The information we publish in DIVERGENTES comes from contrasted sources. Due to the situation in the region, many times, we are forced to protect them under pseudonymity or anonymity. Unfortunately, some governments in the region, including the Nicaraguan regime, do not provide information or censor independent media. For this reason, despite requesting it, we cannot rely on official, authorized versions. We resort to data analysis, anonymous internal sources, or limited information from the official media. These are the conditions under which we exercise a profession that, in many cases, costs us our safety and our lives. We will continue to report.