Human rights advocate: Dictatorship profanes Nicaraguan churches

2 mins read
People are pictured in a file photo taking part in a celebration outside the Cathedral of the Assumption in Leon, Nicaragua. The cathedral, built between 1747 and the early 19th century, is on the World Heritage List maintained by UNESCO, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization. (OSV News photo/Oswaldo Rivas, Reuters)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (OSV News) — Authorities in the city of León, Nicaragua, chose an unusual place for setting up a boxing ring and staging prize fights: the courtyard of the local cathedral. They even scheduled the matches for April 19 — just as Bishop René Sándigo of León was celebrating his birthday.

“The boxing ring was a dismal gift that the dictatorship sent to Monsignor René Sándigo on his birthday. The dictators didn’t even respect that. Criminal, vulgar and temple-profaning dictatorship,” Martha Patricia Molina, a Nicaraguan lawyer who documents hostilities against the Catholic Church, posted on X April 20.

Boxing matches outside churches

“The Sandinista dictatorship orders the mayors’ offices to use the atriums of parishes to carry out pagan activities and thus desecrate churches,” she said in another April 20 post. “Masses have had to be suspended in some churches” due to noise, Molina said.

The staging of spectacles outside of places of worship escalates the repression against Catholics in Nicaragua, where regime of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, have branded priests and bishops as “terrorists” and “coup mongers,” while curtailing public demonstrations of faith — such as processions and patron saint celebrations.

The staging of boxing matches outside of churches has disrupted activities inside, impeded access or forced Masses to be canceled and left a mess on church property — with spectators urinating on the walls of the León cathedral — according to reports gathered by Molina.

“The boxing events in Nicaragua generally happen in stadiums. … But they’re doing this to offend the Catholic faith,” Molina told OSV News.

Bishop Sándigo, who has not been outspoken against the regime, “is not going to denounce this,” Molina added, “because the bishop is now under 24-hour surveillance.”

Harassment of Catholics in Nicaragua

Nicaragua’s ruling Sandinista regime has sent police to arrest priests in their parishes, deployed mobs to interrupt celebrations of the Eucharist and had paramilitaries spy on clergy both inside and outside their churches, according to sources.

Molina said priests have received “courtesy visits” from the police, who warned them to watch their language in Mass. Saying words such as “justice” and “freedom” are verboten.

“I honestly don’t know how the priests are going to deliver their homilies without getting into denouncing (injustice) and announcing the Gospel,” Molina said. “They are already being watched and they know that if they mention these kinds of words, then they will immediately be investigated, imprisoned or exiled.”

The Sandinista regime exiled 18 churchmen to the Vatican in January, including Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa, who had been sentenced to 26 years in prison in 2023 on charges of conspiracy and spreading false information.

The regime struck an unusually polite tone in announcing the churchmen’s exile, which followed a wave of arrests of clergy over the Christmas season and further negotiations with the Vatican.

But Molina said church repression remains rife. At least 131 churchmen and 91 women religious have been expelled or exiled from Nicaragua since 2018, according to Molina’s count. Some 34 churchmen have been expelled or exiled so far this year, putting Nicaragua on pace to surpass the 62 churchmen forced out of the country in 2023.

David Agren

David Agren writes for OSV News from Mexico City.