Nicaragua: Police arrest another priest amid growing tensions
By Lisa Zengarini
Nicaragua's Diocese of Siuna has reported the arbitrary arrest of one of its priests amid growing tensions between the Church and the government of President Daniel Ortega.
According to a statement released on August 15, Fr Oscar Danilo Benavidez Tinoco, pastor of Holy Spirit Parish, was apprehended by the police in the local municipality of Mulukuku, in Northern Nicaragua, after officiating evening Mass.
The diocese learnt later that he was subsequently transferred to a detention and alleged torture centre in the capital Managua, known as “El Chipote”.
The reason of his arrest is unknown and the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (Cenidh) affirmed that he is arbitrarily detained. In its statement the Diocese of Siuna invited the Catholic faithful to join in prayer for Fr. Benavidez.
The diocese said his "only mission is and has been to announce the Good News of Jesus Christ, who is the Word, Life and Salvation for all."
Bishop Alvarez of Matagalpa still under house arrest
Fr. Benavidez is the third priest arrested so far this year in Nicaragua, and the ninth cleric in police custody.
These include Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa and five other priests who have been under house arrest since August 4 on grounds of using media and social networks to carry out acts of violence and to destabilise the country.
In a video that went viral, Bishop Alvarez was seen on his knees begging for mercy while a group of armed police officers surrounded him. Siuna was the first diocese that offered its public support to Bishop Álvarez, whose arrest has been also unanimously condemned by bishops across Latin America.
Meanwhile, last week the Nicaraguan police issued another law enforcement measure banning a Marian procession scheduled in Managua for August 13 on the occasion of the Marian Congress held on August 7-15 and at the the conclusion of the national Our Lady of Fatima pilgrimage.
Relations between the Sandinista Government and the Church have plummetted since 2018, when Nicaraguan authorities clamped down on protests against a series of controversial reforms to the social security system.
Despite attempts to mediate in the crisis, bishops were ultimately banned from the dialogue and relations further worsened after the controversial 2021 elections which confirmed President Ortega for a fifth term amid allegations of fraud and the political persecution of rival presidential candidate.
Since the outbreak of the crisis, the Church has been the target of nearly 200 attacks and desecrations, as well as harassment and intimidations of clerics, with bishops being branded as terroriststs. In 2019, Managua Auxiliary Bishop Silvio José Báez was forced to leave the Diocese of Managua at Pope Francis’s request after receiving several death threats.
Early in July, the Government expelled the Missionaries of Charity (MC), after expelling in March the Apostolic Nuncio to Nicaragua, Polish Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag.
Holy See's concerns
The Holy See has also expressed concerns over the latest developments in Central American nation.
Speaking on August 11 at a Special session of the Organization of American States (OAS) focused on the situation in Nicaragua, the Vatican Permanent Observer Msgr. Juan Antonio Cruz Serrano appealed to the parties “to find ways of understanding, based on respect and mutual trust, seeking above all the common good and peace."