Three more priests arrested in Nicaragua as persecution against the Church worsens — By: Catholic News Agency

Cathedral of Managua, Nicaragua. / Credit: Wikimedia Commons

ACI Prensa Staff, Dec 29, 2023 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

President Daniel Ortega’s dictatorship in Nicaragua has arrested three more priests: Monsignor Carlos Avilés, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Managua; Father Héctor Treminio, pastor of Holy Christ Parish in  Esquipulas, in the same archdiocese; and Father Fernando Calero, pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Rancho Grande in the Diocese of Matagalpa.

The whereabouts of the three priests is unknown.

Silvio José Báez, the auxiliary bishop of Managua living in exile in the United States due to persecution from the Ortega regime, wrote on X Dec. 28: “I am outraged by the unjust abduction of three beloved priests from Managua by the criminal Sandinista dictatorship.” 

In addition to these three new cases, Father Pablo Villafranca, pastor of Our Lord of Veracruz in Nindirí (Masaya), also in the Archdiocese of Managua, was abducted by police on Dec. 26. To date, there is no information on his whereabouts.

Also in December, Bishop Isidoro del Carmen Mora Ortega of the Diocese of Siuna was abducted and imprisoned. Two seminarians were also taken by the authorities along with Mora without further information being available about them. In addition, Monsignor Óscar Escoto, vicar general of the Diocese of Matagalpa, was arrested and held in custody for a few hours.

Another priest, Father Jader Guido, was arrested on Dec. 24 and later released.

The persecution of the Catholic Church by the regime of Ortega and his wife and vice president, Rosario Murillo, has intensified in recent months. The most emblematic case is that of Bishop Rolando Álvarez of the Diocese of Matagalpa, who was abducted and held under house arrest in August 2022 until in February of this year when he was finally sentenced to more than 26 years in prison, accused of being “a traitor to the homeland.”

2023 was year of ‘most attacks’ against the Church in Nicaragua

Martha Patricia Molina, a Nicaraguan researcher and author of the study “Nicaragua: A Persecuted Church?”, told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, Dec. 28 that those who were arrested “are priests with a long life of pastoral ministry and very loved by the laity.” She charged that the Sandinista dictatorship arrested them “for no reason, without an arrest warrant and in private paramilitary vehicles.”

“From 2018 to 2023, the Catholic Church has endured 756 attacks against it [in Nicaragua]. In 2023 alone, 291 attacks were carried out. We can denote this last year as the year with the most attacks against the Catholic Church in the recent five-year period. In the month of December 2023 alone, 25 hostile actions have been recorded,” Molina said.

In addition to the cases of forced disappearances, 177 men and women religious have been directly prevented from exercising their pastoral ministry, forcing them into exile.

Molina recalled that Pope Francis has spoken on several occasions about the serious crisis that the Catholic Church is going through in Nicaragua since April 2018. The Holy Father compared the Sandinista regime this year to the “vulgar” dictatorships of the early 20th century. He also referred to Ortega as someone who is “unstable.”

The Nicaraguan researcher noted that “the Holy See continues its negotiations with the dictatorship, but what is going on is that the Ortega-Murillo family wants to have absolute control over the appointment of bishops or cardinals.”

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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