Nicaragua: The Jesuits Are “Persona Non Grata”

August 30, 2023
Jesuit Central American University in Nicaragua

The government of Nicaragua has just revoked the legal status of the Society of Jesus and has ordered the confiscation of all its assets. It is a measure that is part of the standoff between the Nicaraguan executive and the Catholic Church. In March 2023, Pope Francis, a Jesuit, had accused Daniel Ortega’s regime of being a “gross dictatorship.”

Since August 23, the Jesuits have been banned from Nicaragua by the authorities, on the alleged grounds of administrative irregularities that the religious institute committed by not filing a financial statement since 2022, as required by law.

It is difficult not to see in this act an illustration of the growing deterioration of relations between President Daniel Ortega and Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope in the history of the Church, whose sound bites against the strong man from Nicaragua have probably not helped calm the situation.

Daniel Ortega, a 76-year-old ex-Sandinista guerrilla, was re-elected in November 2021 for a fourth consecutive presidential term on a ballot from which all his potential opponents were absent.

Demonstrations demanding his resignation in 2018 were bloodily repressed, hundreds of people were imprisoned, and tens of thousands exiled, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Many members of the clergy – in particular the Jesuits – took up the cause of the demonstrators.

After a disappointed attempt to mediate with the Catholic Church, the Head of State accused the Catholic hierarchy of fomenting a coup with the help of the United States, accusing the bishops of being “putschists” and “Satanists.” In 2020, a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the Managua cathedral in an attempt to burn it down.

Relations with the Holy See deteriorated during 2022 when the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag, was forced to suddenly pack his bags and leave the country. The nunciature was closed in March 2023.

In August 2022, Rolando Alvarez, Bishop of Matagalpa, a prelate active against the regime, was arrested and placed under house arrest, according to the police who cited his “destabilizing and provocative” activities. In February 2023, he was sentenced to 26 years in prison.

Since then, several universities linked to the Church have been closed and their property seized, last May, even the Red Cross was accused of having departed from its principle of neutrality during the 2018 demonstrations.

At the Secretariat of State, they know that in the future it will be necessary to display great diplomacy in order to renew the threads of a dialogue broken off for several months, and to try to calm the situation. It is an exercise that does not seem to frighten diplomats in Rome who have seen others such situations.