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In a move that has further strained relations between the Nicaraguan government and the Catholic Church, Bishop Isidro Mora was arrested on Wednesday, December, 20, five days before Christmas.
Mora, who leads the Triangulo Minero Diocese in the country’s north, is the second Catholic bishop to be detained in recent months. He was arrested for praying for his colleague, Bishop Rolando Alvarez.
Lawyer and human rights activist Martha Patricia Molina told local Nicaraguan media that the country’s priests are exposed to arbitrary arrest if they mention Bishop Álvarez, the bishop detained by the Ortega government for now more than a year. In statements to La Prensa, Molina explained that this would imply not mentioning Álvarez (or the word “bishop”) in the Eucharistic prayer. In the Diocese of Matagalpa, the diocese led by Álvarez, the prohibition is explicit.
However, as explained by the Catechism, the local bishop of a place, even when he is physically absent, is always responsible for the celebration of the Eucharist. Thus, the bishop’s name is mentioned at every Mass (cf CCC 1369).
As told by Reuters, Mora’s arrest comes amid a wider crackdown on dissent by President Daniel Ortega’s government, which has targeted human rights activists, journalists, and religious leaders.
Local media outlets reported that Mora was arrested for praying for his colleague, Bishop Rolando Alvarez, who was himself detained in August and sentenced to 26 years in prison on charges of “conspiracy” and “spreading false information.”
Mora’s arrest has been met with condemnation from international human rights groups and religious leaders around the world. The Vatican has called for his immediate release, and the United Nations has urged Nicaragua to respect freedom of religion.
Daring to criticize
The Nicaraguan government has not yet commented on Mora’s arrest. However, Ortega has previously accused the Catholic Church of being involved in a plot to overthrow him.
The deepening crisis in Nicaragua is raising concerns about the country’s future. Ortega, who has been in power since 2007, has increasingly cracked down on dissent in recent years. The arrest of two Catholic bishops in just a few months is a worrying sign that the government is targeting anyone who dares to criticize it.
The Nicaraguan government has accused the Catholic Church of being involved in a plot to overthrow it, while the Church has denied these allegations and said that it is being persecuted for speaking out against human rights abuses.
Why the Church?
A series of reports on the Catholic Church in Nicaragua by exiled civil rights lawyer and researcher Martha Patricia Molina documented 529 attacks over the past five years — 90 so far this year.
The Church is being systematically targeted because it is “the last [independent] bastion left in Nicaragua.”
The regime, Molina explains, “took the media, the institutions, the political parties and the NGOs. So the only space left is the Church.” She said the government “intends to eradicate the Church completely, so that the prophetic voice of the gospel is not heard by the Nicaraguan people.”