Father Yessner Cipriano Pineda Meneses, parish priest of the Our Lady of Lourdes church in Ocotal, Nueva Segovia, was arrested this past Saturday, October 7, 2023, as confirmed by the attorney and researcher in religious matters, Martha Patricia Molina.
Pineda is the fifth priest to be arrested in the last seven days. His arrest occurred one day after that of Father Alvaro Toledo, the priest in charge of the Our Lady of the Asunción parish in Ocotal, Nueva Segovia.
Pineda was arrested in Esteli while he was participating in the festivities of the Virgin of the Rosary. With his arrest, there are now twelve clerics imprisoned by the Ortega dictatorship since mid-2022.
"There are still priests who have warrants out for their arrest and they have not been able to leave the country. The international community is being too nonchalant in the face of this fearful and long dark night that the Catholic Church is living through. Humanitarian aid is needed for the priests," Molina wrote on her X account, formerly Twitter.
Father Pineda is diocesan advisor of the youth pastoral of the Diocese of Estelí, of which Monsignor Rolando Álvarez, current political prisoner of the Ortega dictatorship, is apostolic administrator.
It was Bishop Alvarez who, in November 2021, appointed Father Pineda as administrator of the parish. The cleric celebrated his ninth anniversary of having been ordained as a priest on August 15, 2023.
The diocese of Esteli "is left without priests"
At the time of this reporting, the whereabouts of the parish priests Pineda and Toledo, both belonging to the Diocese of Estelí –which already has six imprisoned priests, plus Bishop Álvarez– is unknown.
In their social media accounts, the Nicaraguan University Alliance (AUN) and the Coalition of Social Movements (AMS) denounced the arrests, this past Saturday, October 7, of the Catholic journalists María Asunción Salgado and Salvador Paguaga.
Both collaborated in the parish Our Lady of the Asunción, under the leadership of Father Álvaro Toledo, who was arrested on Thursday night, October 5.
"We lose two, we get one back"
Toledo was kidnapped by the Police after he spoke out about the multiple arrests of priests of the Diocese of Esteli. "Our diocese is running out of priests, we have no priests left. We ask of our good shepherd abundant vocations and for the priests to be in their parishes," said the parish priest in the homily on Thursday, October 5, 2023.
The cleric asked for prayers for the priests José Iván Centeno, of the Immaculate Conception of Mary parish in Jalapa, Nueva Segovia, and Julio Ricardo Norori, of the St. John Evangelist parish of San Juan del Río Coco, Madriz. Both were arrested on October 1, 2023.
Norori and Centeno were detained by men in civilian clothes in an operation ordered by the regime, and transferred to the Our Lady of Fátima Seminary in Managua. "They are using the seminary as a jail," indicated a source linked to the Church, who added that Gadea was taken to the cells of Plaza El Sol, headquarters of the Ortega Police.
In his homily, Toledo also referred to the release of the vicar of Esteli, Leonardo Guevara Gutierrez, who had been detained and under investigation for almost five months. "We lose two, we get one back," he said.
Guevara was taken by police agents from the church on May 22 and transferred to "one of the formation houses" of the Catholic Church in Managua, where he was waiting for the National Police to complete a process of "investigation on administrative matters of the extinct Diocesan Caritas of Estelí," as reported at the time by the diocese.
Diocese of Estelí with six imprisoned priests
Both the released priest and the recently captured priest belong to the Diocese of Estelí, whose apostolic administrator is Bishop Rolando José Álvarez Lagos, sentenced last February to 26 years and four months in prison for crimes considered treason.
In addition to the bishop and the three aforementioned priests, other detained priests from this diocese are: Eugenio Rodríguez Benavides, parish priest of Jalapa, and Osman Amador Guillén, director of Diocesan Caritas of Estelí.
In an interview with the program Esta Noche, lawyer and researcher Martha Patricia Molina warned that "the imprisonments and kidnappings are going to continue during the next hours or weeks."
"What they [Ortega loyalists] are looking for is to eradicate the Catholic Church. In some communities, they are not going to allow even the presence of priests," said the expert.
"These kidnappings are not even being carried out under the light of their own illegal laws. Now we are facing forced disappearances," the lawyer warned. Molina uses as an example the case of Father Fernando Zamora, who has been detained for "more than 80 days" and "there's been no information about him."
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff.