Nicaragua: Daniel Ortega vs The Catholic Church

Mario Aguilar
Saturday 8 October 2022

Nicaragua: Daniel Ortega vs The Catholic Church


© Mario I Aguilar


Director, Centre for the Study of Religion and Politics, University of St. Andrews



It is difficult to imagine such strife in Nicaragua when one crosses Peñas Blancas from Costa Rica. The beauty of nature, the fresh air, and the natural ecological resources that speak of tourism, prosperity, and the beauty of Nicaragua. There is no doubt that Nicaragua is a beautiful country with people who endured the dictatorship of Somoza but was able to overthrow him and deliver change through a revolution that in 1979 was of hope, happiness, and self-determination. The US government tried to spoil it with the ongoing contra attacks on Nicaragua in the name of US democracy and the fear of democracy but failed.


Within a country in which religious practices and the role of the Catholic Church are central for more than half of the population, it is not easy to understand the current situation of strife between the two. Lately the Nicaraguan bishops requested Pope Francis not to say very much, otherwise there will be more arrests, and constraints of clergy and lay Catholics alike. This has been surprising because Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo married in Church, and they are both Roman Catholics. However, on the 7th of October, the second hearing against five priests, two seminarians and a lay person of the diocese of Matagalpa took place.[1] They stand accused of conspiracy against the Nicaraguan state and of spreading false news via online technologies that intend to undermine the Nicaraguan state and Nicaraguan society. The priests accused are José Luis Díaz (first vicar of St Peter’s Cathedral), Sadiel Eugarrios (second vicar of St. Peter’s Cathedral), Ramiro Tijerino (rector of John Paul II University), and Raúl Vega González. The Ortega regime has accused the church of treason and has initiated legal processes against ten priests and the bishop of Matagalpa, Rodrigo Älvarez who remains a prisoner of the regime in an unknown location.

Why this persecution? In the past week, Daniel Ortega has publicly spoken against Pope Francis and the lack of democracy in the Catholic Church and at the same time has expelled missionaries, including the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa´s sisters. There is no doubt that Ortega has felt that the Catholic Church in its public role has become an enemy of his regime, and he has instructed the police to impede processions and public demonstrations of piety and adherence to the Church rather than to the Sandinista movement. Ortega and Murillo had had nine children and married in Church.[2] However, national protests against the Ortega dynasty started in April 2018 and the Catholic Church sided with the protestors against the regime’s cutting of social benefits that had been a trademark of the Sandinistas since the revolution.

But Ortega is 75 years of age, and conversations by those allowed in the inner circle have turned not only to the change that will come in Nicaragua sooner rather than later because of the international pressure on the Ortega regime but also to the spiritual pressure on a man who is a Roman Catholic and who wants to settle his journey into eternal life. From Somoza to Pinochet, from Franco to Stroessner, dictators have ended their lives rejected by their own people, without being recognised as great leaders of the poor and the marginalised. Already Ortega and family cannot travel, and the United States is preparing further economic sanctions that will cripple the regime that currently is seeking full support from Russia. Within such isolation there have been signs of opening with the change of prison to home detention for some prisoners and by the opening of humanitarian avenues organised by former fighters closed to Ortega such as the Comandantes Ernesto and Penacho from Colombia and Chile. The future is a puzzle but the relation with the Catholic Church is even more unknown for Ortega and Murillo, and indeed for Nicaragua.-


[1] Someten a juicio político a sacerdotes de Matagalpa y aceptan a sus abogados de confianza (

[2] Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo: Nicaragua’s political dynasty: heirs in a golden cage | USA | EL PAÍS English Edition (

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