The Catholic Church Is Fighting for Its Place in Nicaragua

Danni Chacon, Senior Editor

The Catholic Church in Nicaragua is under attack. In less than four years, the Catholic Church has endured over 190 attacks and desecrations. This shift in religious presence is unprecedented for Nicaragua, a predominantly Catholic nation.

Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America, approximately the size of New York state or half the size of the United Kingdom. The country is a presidential representative ‘democratic’ republic but has recently experienced weakened democracy under its current leadership. 

Former Sandinista President Daniel Ortega was elected president in 2006, 2011, 2016, and most recently 2021. While in power, his administration has slowly but surely garnered complete control over all branches of government. Under his leadership, Nicaragua has become the poorest nation in Central America and the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, facing the long-lasting effects of widespread poverty and underemployment. 

Nicaraguan police and government officials have begun to bank Catholic processions in a nationwide church crackdown as a part of orders from the Ortega administration. This operation has been ongoing since 2018 when the major government alliance with sectors of the church ended and national protests resulted in over 300 casualties at the hands of security forces and paramilitaries. 

The country has accused several priests and bishops of conspiracy since the Church demanded justice for the lives lost. In a single year, the Nicaraguan police arrested Bishop Rolando Álvarez, outlawed the missionary order founded by Mother Teresa, and expelled 18 nuns from the country, all outraging civilians. Since then, relations between the Catholic church and the Nicaraguan government have been tense, ultimately leading to violent and forceful interactions. 

The growing division between the church and state has inflicted drastic changes on freedom of the press in the country. For instance, the Ortega government has taken more than seven Catholic-run radio stations off the air. Radio station control being insufficient, the Nicaraguan government has also taken over the facilities and headquarters of a long-standing newspaper, La Prensa, which they plan to turn into a “cultural center.” In opposition, a team of reporters has since collaborated to keep the online publication alive from abroad. Currently, there is no newspaper in print in the county and the few media outlets that do exist are operated virtually and anonymously.

Receiving national attention from neighboring countries, the crisis has caught the attention of the head of the Catholic Church and the sovereign of the Vatican City State, Pope Francis. In August 2022, the Pope called for an “open and sincere” dialogue to resolve a standoff between the Church and the Nicaraguan government. Although international leaders like the Pope are working towards mediation through a national dialogue for peace, the Ortega administration has not responded or cooperated. 

Image by Alice Quad via Unsplash