Two panels of the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a joint hearing recently focusing on the persecution of the Catholic Church in Nicaragua.
Since last year, the Catholic Church had been facing intense mistreatment from President Daniel Ortega, culminating in the arrest of Bishop Rolando Álvarez, an outspoken critic of Ortega’s government. Álvarez was sentenced to 26 years in prison.
“The Catholic Church is under siege. Almost three-quarters of Nicaraguans belong to the Catholic Church,” Rep. María Elvira Salazar, R-Fla., said at the March 22 House hearing of the Western Hemisphere and global health, global human rights and international organizations subcommittees.
“To have complete control over them, the now dictator-in-chief, Daniel Ortega, needs to replace the Almighty God with his dictatorship.”
“That is why he is systematically hunting down and silencing the most sacred sovereign institution in Nicaraguan history, the Catholic Church,” Salazar continued.
The witnesses included Nicaraguan political prisoners and activists such as Juan Sebastián Chamorro, former presidential candidate and long-time critic who was arrested by the Ortega regime, and Bianca Jagger, ex-wife of Rolling Stone lead Mick Jagger and human rights activist, who escaped to the United States.
Ortega’s regime has implemented numerous anti-Catholic policies, such as stopping registrations of nongovernmental groups, expelling nuns, forcing the closure of Catholic charities and educational projects, suppressing media outlets, and banning Easter and Way of the Cross processions.
“We are inspired by the incredible faith and bravery of those like Bishop Álvarez, who resist tyranny, and we will work to ensure President Ortega and his cronies are held accountable for these heinous acts,” Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., said.
“You are heroes,” he added. “To be resilient the way you are is inspiring to all of us. Someday, there will be a free and democratic Nicaragua. ”
Smith called for a “strong response” to Ortega’s dictatorship and said the United States “stands with the brace Nicaraguans who are committed to democracy and respect for the internationally recognized human rights.”
Pope Francis weighed in on the persecution of Catholics, comparing Ortega’s rule to anti-Christian dictators.
“We have a bishop in prison, a very serious and capable man, who wanted to give his testimony and did not accept exile,” Francis said, referring to Álvarez. “It is something from outside of what we are living, as if it were a communist dictatorship in 1917 or a Hitlerian one in 1935.
In response to Francis’ comments, Nicaragua suspended diplomatic relations with the Vatican.
In September, Ortega called the Catholic Church “the perfect dictatorship” and stated the pope is a “holy tyrant.”
“Who elects the priests, the bishops, the pope, the cardinals, how many votes, who votes for them,” the Nicaraguan dictator said at a public event in Managua, the country’s capital. “If they’re going to be democratic, they must begin by electing the pope, the cardinals, the bishops, with the vote of the population, with the votes of Catholics.”
Previous comments from Ortega have called Catholic bishops “terrorists,” “demons in cassocks,” and “men in satanic cassocks”
Smith, who is a Catholic and who chaired the hearing, called for sanctions by the United Nation and the United States.
“Shame on us if, in the free parts of the world like the United States of America, we don’t use every lever—economic, political, diplomatic—every pressure we could bring to bear,” the New Jersey lawmaker said.
“The Catholic Church throughout history has defeated greater demons than you and your satanic wife,” Salazar said about Ortega’s wife, Rosario Maria Murillo Zambrana, who is also the vice president of Nicaragua.
“Your days are numbered. You have been measured and failed, and everything you have stolen from the people of Nicaragua will turn to ash.”
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