Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has long been a persecutor of the Catholic Church in the Central American country, and the communist leader recently stepped up his attacks.
In the latest move to suppress the Church in Nicaragua, Ortega’s government has rescinded the legal status and seized the assets of the nation’s Caritas branches and two Catholic universities, essentially shutting them down.
The Ortega regime said the legal status of Universidad Juan Pablo II and Universidad Cristiana Autónoma de Nicaragua were canceled “for non-compliance with the laws that regulate them.”
It also said that both Caritas in the Diocese of Jinotega (Caritas Jinotega) and the larger Caritas Nicaragua “agreed to the Voluntary Dissolution and liquidation… by unanimous decision of its members.”
However, even though the published ministerial agreements list the decisions as voluntary, local media outlets are reporting that the organizations didn’t have a choice because of the insurmountable obstacles imposed on them under the dictatorship of Ortega.
Reuters reported Ortega also shut down the Vatican’s embassy in Nicaragua and the Nicaraguan embassy to the Vatican.
When Ortega led the country in the 1980s, the Church was tolerated as long as it kept silent about his human rights abuses. Any priests who criticized the regime were jailed, or worse.
In later years, when he was out of power and when he first became president again in 2006, Ortega did attempt a rapprochement with the Church, even remarrying his wife in a Church ceremony and enacting strong anti-abortion policies.
After the government’s heavy-handed handling of protests in 2018, the country’s bishops offered to mediate between Ortega and the protestors, and he accepted.
Soon after that, though, Auxiliary Bishop Silvio José Báez of Managua criticized the government’s handling of the protests.
Since then, Ortega has made the Church a primary target of his repressive regime. Threats against Bishop Báez became so bad that he had to flee the country in 2019.
As the country celebrated its bicentennial in 2021, Church leaders in Nicaragua said, “The political and social situationmust not continue the same.”
A document released from the Archdiocese of Managua’s justice and peace commission said the Church hoped for a “homeland that respects human rights, freedom of the press, and the right to opine differently … where there doesn’t exist the fear of free, transparent, and competitive elections, nor political prisoners, nor media outlets closed or impeded from informing.”
In 2022, Nicaragua expelled the Vatican ambassador from the country and stripped funds from Jesuit-run Central American University, which has been at odds with the government.
Bishop Rolando José Álvarez Lagos of Matagalpa, Nicaragua, started a hunger strike on May 19 after police harassed him.
“I have been persecuted throughout the day by the Sandinista police, from morning until late at night, at all times, during all my movements of the day,” he said.
The bishop was taken into custody in August and sentenced to 26 years in prison on Feb. 10 after refusing to be sent to the United States with 222 political prisoners deported by the Nicaraguan government.
In a recent interview, Pope Francis spoke about Bishop Álvarez. With the sentencing of the bishop, the pope said, “I have no choice but to think that the person in charge is unbalanced.”
He is right. The U.S. and other Western countries have placed some sanctions on Nicaragua, but they must do more to isolate this persecutor of the Church.
The people of Nicaragua deserve freedom, and the Church should be free from the oppression of this “unbalanced” man.