Ortega escalates crackdown on Catholic Church in Nicaragua with clergy, laymen sentenced to prison


(LifeSiteNews) — The Nicaraguan persecution of the Catholic Church has reached a new intensity with the sentencing of five clergy and three laymen to 10 years in prison in what is widely understood as a blatant attack on the Church for its outspoken opposition to the Ortega dictatorship and its violations of civil and religious liberties.

The sentences were handed down in two recently concluded trials. On Jan. 24, Judge Nancy Aguirre of the Tenth Criminal Trial District Court of Managua sentenced Fr. Óscar Danilo Benavidez Dávila to 10 years in prison. And on Feb. 6, Judge Nadia Tardencilla of the Second Criminal Trial District handed down the same sentence to three more priests, a deacon, two seminarians, and a lay businessman. Five years were imposed for each of the alleged crimes of “conspiracy to undermine national security and sovereignty” and “spreading fake news” with an additional 800 days monetary fine, in one instance 49,917 córdobas, or about $1,350.

The three priests sentenced Feb. 6 are Fr. Ramiro Reynaldo Tijerino Chávez, rector of the John Paul II University; Fr. Sadiel Antonio Eugarrios Cano, former vicar of the Matagalpa cathedral; and Fr. José Luis Díaz Cruz, the current vicar of the Matagalpa cathedral. Together with these three were Deacon Raúl Antonio Vega González; seminarians Darvin Esteylin Leiva Mendoza, and Melkin Antonio Centeno Sequeira; and Sergio José Cárdenas Flores, a photographer for a Catholic television channel.

The arrests and sentences come amid heightened systematic persecution of the Catholic Church in Nicaragua that has garnered worldwide attention, with U.S. Congressman Chris Smith calling on the Biden administration as well as the Vatican and Pope Francis to intervene on behalf of oppressed Catholics in Nicaragua.

READ: US congressman urges Pope, Biden to condemn Nicaragua’s persecution of Catholics

In a press release accompanying a Dec. 15 Congressional hearing on the plight of the Catholic Church in Nicaragua, Smith declared, “The egregious war being waged by the Ortega regime against religious freedom — especially against the Catholic Church and an extraordinarily brave Catholic leader, Bishop Álvarez — deserves greater recognition, not only from the Biden Administration but also and especially the Vatican.”

The recent sentencing of the three Catholic clergy and five laymen must now be added to what Smith reported in December, that “more than 236 political prisoners — including many priests, seminarians and lay Catholic journalists — are believed to be incarcerated by Ortega, who has reportedly referred to priests as ‘killers,’ ‘terrorists,’ ‘coup plotters’ and accused the clergy of working on behalf of ‘American imperialism.’”

As LifeSiteNews reported in December, Bianca Jagger — a native Nicaraguan, Catholic, and human rights activist — testified before Congress that “the Ortega-Murillo regime is escalating their unholy war against the Catholic Church. The people of Nicaragua will continue to be terrorized by this dictatorship if concrete and effective actions are not taken,” Jagger said.

She added that “every kind of religion is suffering the repression of this regime,” but noted that Ortega is especially intent to “destroy the Catholic Church in Nicaragua.”

Just last month, the World Watch List 2023, an annual report on the persecution of Christians throughout the world, placed Nicaragua within the top 50 countries for “increasingly visible” “communist repression of church leaders” for their faith.

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