Nicaragua leads in cases of religious persecution in Latin America

The Catholic Church has suffered almost two hundred attacks in four years.

The Catholic Church in Nicaragua has suffered over 190 attacks and desecrations in less than four years, including a fire in the Cathedral of Managua, as well as persecution of clergy by the regime of president Daniel Ortega, according to a research paper which was sent to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Burned cross after attack to the Cathedral of Managua, Friday 31 July 2020.
Aftermath of the attack to the Cathedral of Managua, Friday 31 July 2020.

The report, titled Nicaragua: Persecuted Church? (2018-2022), by Martha Patricia Molina Montenegro, who is part of the Anticorruption and Transparency Observatory, was published in May and does not, therefore, cover the many attacks that took place in the month of June, such as the persecution of Bishop Rolando Álvarez Lagos, of the Diocese of Matagalpa, the closing of Catholic television channels or the expulsion of the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Mother Theresa.

190 attacks, an underestimate

Furthermore, the paper estimates that the figures it presents are lower than the actual number of attacks. “Cases were found where the priests were so tired of the thefts and desecrations that they only filed complaints about the last of them. Others opted for silence, since they no longer believe in the legal system”, it reads.

Attack to the Cathedral of Managua, Friday 31 July 2020.
The Cathedral of Managua was attacked and set on fire on Friday 31 July 2020.

The figures presented show that 37% of the reported hostility is aimed at priests, bishops, members of religious congregations, seminarians and laypeople, and include cases of exile, whereas 19% are desecrations of places of worship and liturgical items. There was also a high number (17%) of assaults, destruction, arson, blocking of basic services and invasion of private property, among others.

Closing of NGOs and Catholic channels

The most recent case – not registered in the report – is the announcement by the Nicaraguan Government of the forced closure of 101 Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), including the Association of the Missionaries of Charity of Mother Theresa of Calcutta. These nuns are dedicated to serving the poorest of the poor, and run a home for the elderly, a nursery for children of destitute mothers, and a shelter for abandoned children and victims of abuse.

The list also includes another five Catholic institutions. If the proposal is approved by the National Assembly, next week, the number of NGO declared illegal by the Ortega Government will have risen to 758.

Meanwhile, on 28 June the Telecable television broadcaster removed the TV Merced and the Canal San José channels, operated by the Matagalpa and the Estelí dioceses respectively, from its grid. The Church-run channel 51 had already been taken off the air on 31 May.

Support for students behind hostility

According to the report, the reasons for this hostility on the part of the Nicaraguan government can be found in the Catholic Church’s support for students during the peaceful demonstrations against corruption and nepotism in the country, which took place from April 2018 onwards. Churches opened their doors, offering spaces for dialogue and holding prayer meetings, but also helping the wounded and consoling the families of citizens who were murdered or kidnapped.

“Before April 2018 the Church was subject to sporadic abuse. After that date hostility increased in both number and degree. The offensive language used by the Presidential couple against the Catholic hierarchy has become clearer and more common, and the actions by some public institutions against the Church’s charity work also increased”, the report says.

This serious situation of persecution against the Catholic Church had already been highlighted by ACN in its Religious Freedom Report for 2021.

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