Ortega Intensifies Attack on the Catholic Church in Nicaragua

Managua’s auxiliary bishop, Silvio Jose Baez. Photo: Franklin Villavicencio / Confidencial

HAVANA TIMES – An intense controversy erupted in Nicaragua following renewed accusations by the government against Catholic bishop Silvio Baez, whom they accuse of leading a “terrorist conspiracy” to overthrow President Daniel Ortega, reported dpa news.

Baez, auxiliary bishop of Managua, was accused on Monday by a supposed group of religious activists linked to the government to be the “leader of coup groups,” in reference to the social protests that erupted on April 18th.

The complainants divulged an audio of an alleged meeting of Baez with peasant leaders, in which the bishop supposedly calls to “pressure” the government to resume the national dialogue. The voice attributed to Baez also refers to Ortega in a derogatory way.

The pro-government activists also said that the Bishop of Managua is the “leader of the Church subversion” and the “prince of intrigue”. The official website “El 19”, run by VP Rosario Murillo, and the other main government media reproduced the recording, which also circulated on social networks.

In an immediate reaction, Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, president of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua (CEN), expressed his “closeness, prayer and support” of Monsignor Baez.

The cardinal “has personally spoken and expressed his closeness, prayer and support (to Baez) after the recent media attacks on his person and episcopal ministry received,” said a statement from the capital’s archdiocese.

The complainants “emphasized that Baez is a politician in a cassock,” said “El 19”. They also asked that the bishop leave his ministry and leave Nicaragua. Pro-government radio stations called for putting the bishop on trial, while Juan Carlos Ortega, son of the president, warned him in a tweet: “The faith of the people is not to be played with.” 

Monsignor Baez responded with a tweet Tuesday, in which he thanked the support of hundreds of faithful, priests and politicians, and ruled out the possibility of leaving the country.

“My conscience does not reproach me before God, and with his strength I will continue in Nicaragua the ministry that the Church has entrusted to me with the awareness that the word of God is not chained,” the priest wrote.

Raul Zamora, a parish priest of the Jesus de la Divina Misericordia church, riddled with bullets in a government forces attack, said the accusations against Baez are part of “an official campaign to separate the bishops from a possible new dialogue” between Ortega and his detractors.

“The government wants to choose its own mediators and cannot find a way to get rid of the bishops,” Zamora told dpa.

Meanwhile, the well-known poet and theologian Michelle Najlis, who participated in the Sandinista revolution (1979-1990), described as “shameful” the media offensive on a member of the Episcopal Conference.

The recently formed opposition Blue and White Unity coalition also offered its support to Baez, expressing a “categorical rejection of the infamous accusations” against him. “It is nothing new that dictatorships attack the church,” the supporters of the bishop note.

The accusations against Baez, considered the most critical voice against Ortega in the Episcopal Conference, comes days after an opposition protest held inside the capital’s cathedral on Sunday. The Government has banned all opposition marches and demonstrations, only allowing pro-Ortega rallies.

The Bishops of the Episcopal Conference acted as mediators of the national dialogue, convened to try to resolve the crisis and which has been suspended since July 9 despite the fact that the opposition has asked to resume it.

Ortega publicly accused the bishops of “being part of a coup d’état” against him. Former Sandinista guerrilla Eden Pastora, considered a leader of the paramilitary forces, warned recently that the priests should be careful because “the bullets also go through the cassocks”.

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