The ongoing effort to silence dissenting voices in the country has directly targeted the Nicaraguan Catholic Church repeatedly. In less than four years, the Catholic Church in Nicaragua has gone through more than 190 attacks and desecrations, including a fire in the Managua Cathedral, the expulsion of the Missionaries of Charity, and the highly irregular house arrest of Bishop Rolando Álvarez, accused of “crimes against spirituality.”
A report elaborated by Martha Patricia Molina Montenegro, a member of the Observatorio Pro Transparencia y Anticorrupción, called Nicaragua: A Persecuted Church? (2018-2022), shows the Catholic Church has been systematically targeted by Ortega’s regime, which has unleashed an “indiscriminate persecution against bishops, priests, seminarians, religious, lay groups and everything and everyone who has a direct or indirect relationship with the Catholic Church.” Jaime Septién, from the Spanish Edition of Aleteia, gives the reader seven keys to understand how the situation got this far.
Sandinismo takes over
In 1979, after many years of struggle, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), founded in 1961, succeeded in overthrowing the Somoza dictatorship which had ruled the country with an iron fist for several decades. The Sandinistas ruled from that year until 1990. Much of their rise to power was thanks to the mediating work of the Catholic Church, led at that time by the former Cardinal of Managua, Miguel Obando y Bravo. At the beginning, the Sandinistas—with Daniel Ortega at the head—were close to the Catholic Church, but soon the break came when various members of the Church (for example, Ernesto Cardenal) were integrated into the political organization as ministers and members of the government.
The public admonition of John Paul II
The priests who were in the Sandinista movement were suspended by the Vatican. When Pope John Paul II visited Nicaragua for the first time (March 4, 1983), two events further pushed the distancing of Sandinismo from the Catholic Church: Pope John Paul II’s public warning to Ernesto Cardenal to regularize his situation, and the shouts of those who participated in the multitudinous Mass with the entire Ortega cabinet. The people shouted slogans in favor of popular power and peace, interrupting the Mass. At one point, the pope responded by saying these prophetic words: “The Church is the first to want peace.” At that time there were expulsions of priests accused of “terrorism” and an atmosphere of undeclared hostility against the Church. St. John Paul II would remember that trip as a “great dark night”.
The expulsion of Bishop Vega
Now in power, the Sandinistas wanted to take revenge for the positions of the Church and the rejection of liberation theologians during the papacy of John Paul II, considering this an act of opposition to the people’s revolution. The persecution and possible exile of Bishop Rolando Alvarez brings to mind the persecution and exile to which the regime subjected the bishop of Juigalpa, Pablo Vega, in 1986. By means of deceit, they invited Bishop Vega to a meeting. There they apprehended him, put him in a helicopter, and left him on the other side of the border with Honduras. The accusation, however, was similar to those of today: “treason.”