‘I Never Respected the Bishops’

Nicaragua’s socialist dictator Daniel Ortega once again expressed his dislike for the Nicaraguan Catholic Church on Monday, openly stating that he has never held any respect for the Church’s bishops.

The dictator lashed branded Nicaraguan priests — who have led a years-long organized pro-democracy effort in the country — as “Pharisees,” “whitewashed tombs,” and “Somocistas,” accusing the church of being affiliated with the Somoza dictatorship that ruled Nicaragua between 1937 and 1979.

“I never had respect for the bishops. I could not believe the bishops. There are some priests who I affectionately respected, for others I could not respect or care for them because of their attitudes,” Ortega said.

Ortega also criticized his great-uncle José Antonio Lezcano y Ortega, who in life was the first archbishop of Managua (1913-1952), accusing him of having “blessed” the weapons of the United States army during its presence in Nicaragua, which the Sandinista dictator cataloged as the “greatest shame” of a Christian.

“Well, he was a bishop, but I couldn’t respect him as a religious authority, I couldn’t see in him the word of Christ, no matter how much they spoke in the name of Christ,” Ortega said. “They were simply blaspheming every time they spoke in the name of Christ.”

Ortega lobbed his latest attacks against the Catholic church during a graduation event for Nicaraguan police cadets. Elsewhere in his remarks, the socialist dictator described Deputy Director General of the Nicaraguan Police Ramón Avellán — sanctioned by the United States in 2019 for his involvement in human rights abuses — as a “hero.”

Ortega went on to defend his alleged belief in Christianity despite his ongoing persecution of the faith.

“Christ was my first inspiration to fight for the poor, because in Christ I saw the son of God who had come down to earth to fight for the poor, not for the rich, not for the capitalists, not the Roman Empire, which is like the Yankee Empire these days,” Ortega continued.

The Sandinista dictator declared war against the “terrorist” Vatican and its “perfect dictatorship” in September, claiming that the Catholic Church in Nicaragua was behind a plot to stage a coup against his regime. 

The Catholic Church has long stood against the authoritarian communist Ortega regime. The relationship deteriorated significantly after the Church openly sided with the anti-Ortega protesters that called for the end of the Sandinista regime in 2018.

Police officers and riot police patrol outside Matagalpa’s Archbishop Curia preventing Monsignor Rolando Alvarez from leaving, in Matagalpa, Nicaragua, on August 4, 2022. Riot police on Thursday prevented Nicaraguan Bishop, Rolando Alvarez, from leaving the church building to preside at a mass as part of a “prayer crusade” being carried out by the church, following the closure of several Catholic media outlets and allegations of harassment. (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)

“The attacks [2018 protests] were from different quarters every day and came from some temples — not from all, but from some, where the Pharisees, the whitewashed tombs, were,” Ortega said this week in reference to the 2018 protests. “In departments, some priests with cassocks even came out openly manipulating the saints to call for bloodshed.” 

Daniel Ortega’s comments come one week after his regime formally presented charges against the first bishop arrested by the Sandinista regime since its return to power in 2007. The government formally presented charges against Rolando Álvarez, the bishop of Matagalpa, on December 14, accusing him of “conspiracy to undermine the integrity of the nation” and “spreading fake news.”

Álvarez was placed under house arrest alongside members of his clergy on August 19 during a police raid conducted on the bishop’s parish. Prior to his arrest, the bishop had been accused by Ortega’s wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, of having committed “sins against spirituality.”

In addition to the arrest of Bishop Álvarez, the Ortega regime has conducted a systematic crackdown against members of the Catholic Church in Nicaragua. Among the acts of persecution of Church officials this year are the banishment of the papal nuncio, Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag, in March; the expulsion of a group of 18 nuns from the Missionaries of Charity congregation in July; and the forced shutdown of Catholic television channels and radio stations throughout the year.

Ortega has also severely restricted or outright banned some of the nation’s most significant Catholic festivities, such as the festivities of Saint Michael and Saint Jerome in Septemberand La Purisima and La Griteria, two intrinsically tied celebrations that honor the Blessed Mother Mary held between November 28 and December 8.

Nicaraguan Catholic churches have also experienced recurring mob attacks by pro-Ortega forces, who have interrupted Mass and assaulted Catholic citizens that were present inside.

In response to its continued persecution of the Nicaraguan Catholic Church, the Department of State included Nicaragua on its list of countries that systematically violate its citizens’ religious freedom on December 2.

Christian K. Caruzo is a Venezuelan writer and documents life under socialism. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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