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Ortega State Terrorism and the Catholic Church

Did Pope Frances, the Vatican, and the Nicaraguan Catholic hierarchy all knuckle under Daniel Ortega’s dictatorial will?

The regime of Daniel Ortega has escalated their repression against the Catholic Church. In the image, a police contingent keeps watch over the San Miguel Church in Masaya in September 2022. Photo from social media

Enrique Sáenz

17 de marzo 2024


 Clearly, it’s a very sensitive matter, because there’s always the risk of wounding consciences. It’s also very serious, since it concerns the rights of the great majority of the Nicaraguan population; in addition – it must be said – there are correlations of powers at its center. Finally, it’s very controversial, because when we look at the results, we may sense the causes, but a good portion of the actual processes take place in the shadows.

What are the visible factors?

In the beginning, we witnessed a time of complacency and even complicity with the Ortega dictatorship on the part of the Vatican and its representatives. Let’s not forget that this began with that Apostolic Nuncio from Nigeria with the name of Fortunatus [Dr. Fortunatus Nwachukwu], who adored ostentation, the paraphernalia, and the proximity to those in power. That was in the time of Pope Benedict. He was later followed by Sommertag [Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag], who was more discreet but essentially the same, with actions that ranged from complacent to complicit. In that way, we had an apparent contradiction for a time: a complacent Vatican representative and a critical Church. Until the dictatorship, seeing their expectations frustrated, left Sommertag flat-footed on the pavement and froze diplomatic relations with the Vatican. After that came the imprisonment and sentencing of Bishop Rolando Alvarez and other priests.

What were the dictatorship’s intentions? That’s also known. Possibly the ruler, in his totalitarian zeal, aspired to participate in the naming of the bishops who would occupy the vacated dioceses, or those about to become vacant. Judging by the results, it appears that the Vatican held its ground during that round.

Those were the days when Pope Frances asserted that Ortega was a combination of Hitler and Stalin. A grotesque dictatorship, he called it. And he wasn’t mistaken in his description. What he didn’t foresee is that this diabolical monstrosity would then go full tilt against his religious representatives in Nicaragua.

“They’re a mafia!” screamed the dictator, and the next moment moved from blackmail, insults, and pressure directly on to government terrorism. Pure, hard-core State terrorism. The obvious plan became imposing a “Chinese-” or “Cuban-style” model, with a Church that barely squirms to survive.

How do you formally define government terrorism? It’s the systematic use of threats, violence, and reprisals on the part of the government of a nation – tactics considered illegal even within their own legislation – with the objective of imposing obedience and active collaboration through fear.

As one who has long practiced his vocation for terrorism, Ortega, without further contemplation, applied what he knows well how to do. He forbade religious activities; he outlawed religious orders and congregations, including the Company of Jesus (the Jesuits); he launched money-laundering accusations and stripped the churches of money; he expelled nuns and monks from the country, threw bishops and priests into jail, banished others, and threatened the rest. And if anything else was left pending, at Christmas he attacked again with a stronger dose: at the very height of the Christmas celebrations, he jailed over ten priests and bishops. And, apparently, he was ready to go after more.

During all this time, the Nicaraguan Catholic Church hierarchy kept silent, apparently due to the prudence of some and the satisfaction of others. Because, let’s not mince words, there are also bishops here who are willing to serve as accomplices of the dictatorship. Rene Sandigo, the bishop of Leon for example, doesn’t even try to hide this, so there’s no reason we should hush up about it. Further, there are priests who aspire, like any human being, to rise to positions where they could ingratiate themselves with the dictator. They, as well, don’t hide this. Nor do we have any reason to remain silent about it.

What else do we see?

Following the release and banishment of the priests and bishops who had been imprisoned, there remained the sudden silence of Monsignor Silvio Baez. And the disappearance from view of Bishop Alvarez, who happily is now free, but gagged. Meanwhile, nothing is known about the other priests. And the Vatican sees nothing, hears nothing, and it’s not known if they feel anything.

If we focus on the events described, events that anyone can see, we can conclude that the dictatorship won this round hands down.

It now remains to be seen who the bishops will designate to fill the vacant dioceses, and what will happen with Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes’ obligatory resignation due to his age.

We arrive at the case of “Polito” – Nicaraguan Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes.

As if some element were lacking, [Vice President] Rosario Murillo added a dose of Satanic acid to these wounds. She congratulated the ineffable Polito on his birthday, with mellifluous expressions. It was either a matter of a Satanic victory song, like spitting on the face of the vanquished; or it was a public recognition of his servile behavior; or, alternately, it was a clumsy provocation, in case they wanted more of the same medicine. Each one is free to choose the interpretation they prefer, but in any case, it was pure ridicule.

These are the facts. There’s very little left to imagine or speculate.

Is that the end of the story?

It’s clear that when we talk about the Catholic Church, we’re talking about a world-class political actor. And one aspect in particular should be stressed: the double nature of the Vatican. It’s a State, and at the same time, it’s the Holy Site of the highest authorities of the Catholic Church. As a State, it has its circles of power, its ties, and its interests. There’s a Secretary of State and a diplomatic corps for its political relations with other governments.

Earthly power and spiritual power.

In recognizing the Vatican’s capacity and trajectory as a political operator, we should be clear that the final chapter of this story remains to be written.

For the moment, though, the terrorism of the Nicaraguan State has prevailed.

This article was published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times. To get the most relevant news from our English coverage delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe to The Dispatch.


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Enrique Sáenz

Enrique Sáenz

Economista y abogado nicaragüense. Aficionado a la historia. Bloguero y conductor de la plataforma de comunicación #VamosAlPunto