International News

Nicaraguan Government Investigates Two Priests From Diocese Overseen By Imprisoned Bishop

Parishioners attend a Mass at Santo Domingo de Guzman church in Managua, Nicaragua, Aug. 2, 2022. Two priests in Nicaragua have been taken to Managua, the capital, for questioning, amid an investigation into alleged irregularities in the management of a diocesan Caritas that the Ortega regime closed a year ago. (OSV News photo)

By David Agren

MEXICO CITY (OSV News) — Two priests in Nicaragua have been taken to Managua, the capital, for questioning, amid an investigation into alleged irregularities in the management of a diocesan Caritas chapter.

One of eight chapters of Caritas Nicaragua, the Catholic Church’s charity organization, it was closed more than a year ago by the country’s autocratic government. The priests serve in the Diocese of Estelí, where imprisoned Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa is apostolic administrator.

Fathers Eugenio Rodríguez Benavides and Leonardo Guevara Gutiérrez were “requested by the National Police” May 20 and May 22, respectively, “and transferred to a church training center in Managua, while an investigation is carried out into administrative matters of the extinct diocesan Caritas chapter in Estelí,” the diocese said in a May 22 statement.

“We know that their physical integrity is fine, but they are at the order of the country’s authorities,” the statement continued. “We renew our prayers and reaffirm our trust in the Lord that he doesn’t desert his children.”

Father Rodríguez, pastor of the Divine Providence Parish in the city of Jalapa, had previously intervened as a negotiator in June 2018 after police launched an especially violent crackdown on protesters calling for the ouster of President Daniel Ortega, according to the Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa.

Father Guevara is a priest at the Estelí cathedral. The diocesan Caritas chapter was closed in 2021 after the government revoked its legal status — becoming one of 3,000 nonprofit, nongovernmental and educational organizations targeted by Ortega’s Sandinista government.

The investigation into the priests further deepened the campaign of harassment and terror against the Catholic Church in Nicaragua that has forced clergy into exile, booted the Missionaries of Charity out of the country and imprisoned Bishop Álvarez — its most prominent voice — sentencing him for 26 years in deplorable conditions Feb. 10.

It also follows the May 18 closure of the Immaculate Conception Catholic University in Managua, which trained seminarians from various dioceses in theology and philosophy. The university’s legal status was canceled by the interior ministry after what it called a “voluntary dissolution” and government allegations of not reporting its finances, according to Nicaraguan news organization Confidencial.

Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, have tolerated no dissent since the 2018 protests and come to consider the church an enemy for providing support for wounded protesters and accompanying the families of political prisoners.

The couple have called Catholic bishops “terrorists” and “coup mongers,” and prohibited traditional Easter processions outside of parishes.

In March, the Vatican was forced to close its embassy in Nicaragua as the Ortega-Murillo regime severed relations with the Holy See. Some 222 political prisoners were sent to the United States Feb. 9 and stripped of their Nicaraguan citizenship. Bishop Álvarez refused to board the flight to Washington and was subsequently convicted and sentenced.