Nicaragua: Renewed Tension Between the Government and the Church

August 16, 2022
Bishop Rolando Alvarez Lagos

In Nicaragua, the government continues to target Catholics: nuns expelled, media closed, priests placed under house arrest, faithful arrested. Never has tension reached such a level between the Sandinista revolutionary regime and the Church.

Since August 4, Msgr. Lagos has been observing the police making rounds from the windows of his bishopric where he lives as if entrenched. “They told us we were in prison at home,” the Bishop of Matagalpa, a diocese in northern Nicaragua, explains on social media, alluding to the security forces.

The next day, the police claimed to have opened an investigation for “criminal acts with the aim of destabilizing the state” against Bishop Rolando Alvarez Lagos. It is commonly known that over the months, the prelate, already critical of President Daniel Ortega’s regime, had become the bête noire of the Sandinista regime.

The Bishop of Matagalpa has constantly denounced the “attacks on religious freedom” coming from the top of the state, after the closure of several Catholic radio and television channels.

For several weeks, Daniel Ortega's supporters have been denouncing the Church as being  “complicit in an attempted coup d'etat,” and increasing the pressure against Catholics: there have been countless interrupted Masses and priests closely watched by security forces.

And so, during the night of August 1, in the town of Sébaco, still in the north of the country, faithful who were gathered in the parish church were dislodged with tear gas canisters by the security forces, and several were arrested.

The local priest, Fr. Uriel Vallejos, also known to be one of the main opponents of the current regime in place, is now entrenched in his church, as is his bishop. Because since all the activists and journalists critical of the far-left regime have been sent into exile, the Church is the last institution remaining to cross swords with President Ortega.

An independent journalist confirms this, “the government is in constant confrontation with the Church, which has never ceased to criticize the lack of freedoms and solutions to the democratic crisis.”

Julio Cruz explains that the situation is even more significant in the North, “because it is a hotbed of resistance to the Sandinistas and the priests are the last to publicly oppose the regime.”

Since he was re-elected after a controversial election that led to demonstrations in which at least 350 students died, nearly a thousand associations and NGOs have had to pack their bags, about fifteen missionary Sisters of Charity have been expelled, and the Catholic media has been closing one after the other.

Even if the degree of political involvement of churchmen in the Nicaraguan crisis may raise questions, it should nevertheless be kept in mind that President Daniel Ortega openly claims the Sandinista heritage, a movement of Marxist-Leninist inspiration that is in essence opposed to Catholicism.

For Carlos Chamorro, director of the newspaper El Confidencial, exiled in Costa Rica since 2019, the current attitude of the regime towards the Church is first and foremost the sign of a “decrepit dictatorship which continues to dig its grave little by little.”