The Irish Government has decried the “alarming” and “concerning” crackdown on the rights of the Church in Nicaragua under President Daniel Ortega’s regime.
The Irish bishops’ conference is also being urged by Irish missionaries to show solidarity with Nicaraguan Catholics.
Repression of freedom of religion and expression in Nicaragua are causing a “deterioration in human rights”, with several priests and a bishop arrested under the regime.
In a statement to The Irish Catholic, Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the repression of freedom of religion in the country is “deeply concerning”.
Regarding the treatment of a Nicaraguan prelate and other clergy targeted by the Nicaraguan authorities, a spokesman said the department is “closely monitoring reports of the detention of Catholic Church leaders in Nicaragua, including Bishop Rolando José Álvarez of the Diocese of Matagalpa”.
“The deteriorating human rights situation in Nicaragua, including the repression of freedom of expression and freedom of religion and belief, is deeply concerning. The human rights violations, crackdowns on opposition voices, independent media, religious and other leaders, and backsliding on democratic norms that have been observed in Nicaragua since 2018, and which have intensified since the November 2021 elections, are unacceptable and deeply alarming,” the DFA spokesman said.
Outspoken Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa, five priests, a seminarian and cameraman were under house arrest for more than two weeks at the curia. They were all arrested over the weekend.
Bishop Álvarez is accused of destabilising the country using traditional and social media. Seven Catholic radio stations were forcibly shut down after the bishop refused to close them when ordered to by regulators.
Dublin-based Fr Kevin O’Higgins SJ, who spent many years in Paraguay under a dictatorship in the 80s, said the Church in Nicaragua must be assured it is not alone.
“I think we need to heighten awareness of the Church as one community worldwide, it’s not divided into continents. It shouldn’t be just bishops in Latin America expressing solidarity, it should be the whole Church,” he insisted.
Fr O’Higgins said that simple expressions of solidarity across the world can be “a way of letting the government in Nicaragua know that other people are taking note of what’s happening, without attacking them.
“They [the Nicaraguan government] would obviously hope that this is all internal and nobody else is too upset by it, so I think these statements by bishops’ conferences are very important, to let them know that the whole world is seeing what’s happening. For them it’s important to know that they are not alone,” he said, adding that the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference should add their voice.
In June, the Missionaries of Charity, the order founded by St Teresa of Kolkata, was expelled from the country. In March, the Papal Nuncio to Nicaragua Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag was expelled in what they Vatican dubbed an “unjustified decision”.
A report, entitled Nicaragua: Persecuted Church? (2018-2022), by Martha Patricia Molina Montenegro, who is part of the Anticorruption and Transparency Observatory, was published in May – before the arrest of Bishop Álvarez and several priests. It estimates there were 190 attacks on the Church
The report stated that 37% of the reported hostility is aimed at priests, bishops, members of religious congregations, seminarians and laypeople, and include cases of exile, while 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.
On Sunday Pope Francis called for an “open and sincere” dialogue to resolve a stand-off between the Church and government in Nicaragua.
While the Pope did not specifically mention Bishop Álvarez, he said he was following the situation in Nicaragua with “worry and pain”. He asked for prayers for the country.
“I would like to express my conviction and my wish that, through an open and sincere dialogue, the foundations for a respectful and peaceful coexistence can be found,” Pope Francis said.