In June 2004, Ortega offered to nominate Obando y Bravo for the Nobel Peace Prize, “in recognition of his struggle for national reconciliation” and the signing of the peace agreements that ended the civil war.
That month, Obando y Bravo accepted Ortega’s request to offer the Sandinista-sponsored mass for the thousands of civil war dead.
In July 2004, as part of the 25th anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution, Ortega publicly apologized for abuses against the Catholic Church during his first government and made explicit reference to Carballo.
Ortega returns to power in 2007
Ortega won the 2006 election with 38% of the vote thanks to an electoral reform that lowered the winning percentage for the presidency to 35% of the vote if there is a 5% margin over second place.
In February 2007, Ortega invited Obando y Bravo, then 81-year-old Archbishop Emeritus of Managua, to chair the National Council for Reconciliation and Peace created by his new government. The cardinal accepted the position on a “personal” basis and had the support of the episcopate.
However, in September 2008 the Bishop of Matagalpa, Jorge Solórzano, warned that while relations with the government appeared friendly, measures against the work of the Church were planned, such as the elimination of state subsidies to schools. Catholics.
In November of the same year, violence broke out again in the country after allegations of fraud in the municipal elections which gave 62% of the town halls of the whole country to the FSLN. The bishops launch a strong appeal for peace.
Ortega attacks the Catholic Church again
In early 2009, tensions resumed between the Sandinista government and the Catholic Church. At the end of April, an email from the Nicaraguan presidency sent a document to the media describing the Nicaraguan bishops as corrupt, provoking a formal reaction from the episcopate.
In June, Ortega tried to silence criticism several bishops have leveled at his government by calling on them to pray instead of comment on politics. The prelates replied that it is not enough to pray if one does not work for justice.
In April 2010, as the possibility of Ortega’s re-election in 2011 was being debated, the bishops called on the country to dialogue and denounced “acts of transgression” against the constitution which expressly prohibited successive presidential terms.
However, the Supreme Court of Justice, with Sandinista members, allowed Ortega to run in the November 6, 2011 elections.
In this context, the Auxiliary Bishop of Managua, Silvio José Báez, warned that Nicaragua was heading “towards visible or hidden totalitarianism” and called for the presence of international observers.
The secretary of the bishops’ conference, Msgr. Sócrates René Sandigo, said that with this candidacy, the country lacked the rule of law and that the mistrust of the population had increased.
Nearly a month before the elections, several bishops said they had received threats.
The Sandinista leader won the election with more than 62% of the votes cast, amid allegations of fraud. The Carter Center report said that, according to assessments by domestic and international observers, the elections “were not transparent.”
In a statement, the bishops said the legitimacy of the results was “totally questionable”.
The Catholic Church opposes indefinite re-election
After his third term, during which there was also friction with the bishops, Ortega decided to run for a fourth term.
In January 2014, the Sandinista majority in the National Assembly approved the constitutional amendment allowing Ortega’s indefinite re-election, which the bishops criticized. The legislature also gave the presidency the power to issue executive orders having the force of law.
In June 2016, the episcopate asked Ortega to guarantee that the November 6 elections would be transparent and with the presence of domestic and foreign observers.
However, Ortega won the election again under allegations of fraud.
“We are a persecuted Church”
The current crisis in Nicaragua began in April 2018, during Ortega’s fourth term. The reform of the health and pension system triggered numerous protests across the country, which were violently repressed by the police and during which many bishops and priests received death threats.
In this context, the Archbishop of Managua, Cardinal Leopoldo José Brenes; his auxiliary, Bishop Silvio José Báez; and the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Waldemar Somertag, were beaten by a pro-government mob as they paid a pastoral visit to the Minor Basilica of San Sebastian in Diriamba, 40 kilometers from the capital.
On July 13, 2018, police and paramilitaries fired on the Divine Mercy parish in Managua, where young people who had protested against the regime had taken refuge.
Báez condemned the “criminal repression” of civilians on Twitter and asked the international community not to remain indifferent. The Prelate said that “we are already beginning to be a persecuted Church.”
Shortly after, the Catholic Church agreed to participate again as a mediator in the national talks to resolve the crisis which had already claimed hundreds of lives, but the negotiations were suspended.
In 2019, there was another attempt at talks between the government and the opposition, but this time the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua refused to participate and demanded that “the laity be those who take direct responsibility” for this. process.
In March 2019, Pope Francis received Báez in private audience at the Vatican. Two weeks later, Brenes reported that the pontiff had asked Báez to move to Rome. Currently, the bishop resides in the United States.
A year later, on July 31, 2020, one of the most symbolic attacks against the Church occurs. An unidentified individual entered one of the chapels inside the Managua Cathedral and threw a firebomb that destroyed the famous image of the Blood of Christ, a 382-year-old crucifix beloved by Nicaraguans.
When the presidential elections were held on November 7, 2021, the main opposition candidates had already been imprisoned. A few days earlier, the conference of bishops had declared that each citizen must act by considering what was fairest and best for the country.
It is estimated that absenteeism was 81.5%. The Bishop of León, René Sándigo, was the only prelate to go to the polls. Ortega was re-elected for the fourth consecutive time with 75% of the vote.
A bishop under house arrest
After having ordered the dissolution of 100 NGOs, the expulsion of the Missionaries of Charity and the closure of several Catholic media, the government now has in its sights the Bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando Álvarez, one of its most virulent critics.
Since August 4, the prelate has been under house arrest at the chancellery with five priests, two seminarians and three lay people.
That day, as the Church celebrated the feast of St. Jean-Marie Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, Álvarez came out of the chancellery with the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance and denounced that the police sent by Ortega did not would not let his priests and collaborators enter his chapel to celebrate Mass.
After almost an hour of calling for dialogue and respect for the Catholic Church, the prelate went inside the chancellery and celebrated the Eucharist with his assistants.
However, that same afternoon, the riot police blocked access to the Chancery and did not let Álvarez, who had invited the faithful to go to the Cathedral of Matagalpa to celebrate the Holy Hour and the Mass, leave the building.
The Sandinista regime threatened to imprison the bishop, who only received expressions of solidarity from the local episcopate and a few other countries.
Lawyer Martha Patricia Molina Montenegro, a member of the Pro-Transparency and Anti-Corruption Observatory, recently published an investigation titled “Nicaragua: A Persecuted Church? (2018-2022)”, which documents 190 attacks and desecrations committed against the Catholic Church up to May this year.
For experts like Molina, there is no doubt that Ortega’s “dictatorship” is “waging a frontal war against the Catholic Church in Nicaragua and its objective is to completely eliminate all institutions linked to the Church”.
In the past, Ortega has called the bishops “terrorists” and “devils in cassocks.”
This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.