MANAGUA, Nicaragua (ChurchMilitant.com) - Nicaragua's most outspoken bishop has accused the country's "demonic" Marxist regime of persecuting the Catholic Church and of "murders and crimes against humanity."
Bishop Juan Abelardo Mata, bishop of Estelí, 73, reputed to be the "toughest" bishop of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua, attacked President Daniel Ortega's dictatorship for "using" papal nuncio Abp. Waldemar Stanisław Sommertag in the Second National Dialogue, which was later suspended.
In a Spanish interview, Mata, who "has spent his entire life whipping everything that smells like Marxism-Leninism," denounced the murders in the countryside and the persecution against the Church.
"Lately the killings have not taken place in city streets, but in the mountains, selective killings and of those who have shown leadership in the peoples' cry for change," Mata stressed.
"There is permanent harassment of priests, bishops, and harassment against people involved in the activities of the church because they have felt in the Catholic Church a strength that is going against their plans and programs to maintain power at all costs using only the force of weapons," he elaborated.
The ailing secretary of the episcopal conference said he had not been able to visit rural communities in the last 14 months "because of the threats" against him since pro-democracy protests began in April 2018.
Bishop Mata is one of the five bishops selected by Nicaragua's episcopal conference as mediators between government and the opposition to help overcome the political turmoil engulfing Nicaragua.
The bishops withdrew from the Second National Dialogue, he explains, because "[w]e couldn't see that there was any sincerity, and that everything was two-faced."
The Church was reacting "just as Jesus responded: without fear," the bishop said. Calling on Christians to "turn the other cheek," he asserted: "I will not back down, that is my position as a pastor. I am here. We are not coup-makers, that is the slander of people with a demonic mentality."
Following the bishops' call for new negotiations, Ortega and his cronies "called us coup plotters who were at the fore of this social discord and said we were satanic," the bishop remarked.
Mata believes the "satanic" slander was a result of protesters responding to the bishops calling for Catholics to pray Pope Leo XIII's prayer to the Archangel St. Michael against the devil and "all the evil spirits who prowl through the world seeking the ruin of souls."
"We asked people to pray St. Michael's prayer, the Leo XIII prayer, and they thought we were calling them satanic. Not at all!" Mata said.
"Our work is to intercede. We pray, and we intensify our prayer in a particular way, for the people who are damaging the Republic and for the many people who call themselves Christians but show no hesitation in staining their hands with blood," he added.
Mata also observed that the nuncio "goes along with the desire of the Pope that the Church should be on the front lines in the search for rebuilding the Republic of Nicaragua."
However, "in our Episcopal Conference we do not think that by participating in these dialogues we will be doing something positive for the country. We are concentrating instead on doing what the Holy Father instructed us to do: If the government won't listen to you, talk to the people."
Mata noted that the nuncio was doing "what he wanted to do … as a member of the Vatican's diplomatic service" and dealing with the government "not in an honest way, but rather, in a malicious manner."
"He gives in to the government in order to sell the image that the church and the Pope and the organs of the government that he has through the nunciature are with him and are giving credence to his process of dialogue," Mata said.
When asked if he believed the government was using the nuncio, Mata replied: "Deep down, I do. That is my reading, and I might be wrong. But as a bishop and as a citizen I believe that."
Many priests have had to flee for their lives, Mata pointed out, adding that he had personally helped four priests escape Nicaragua through "blind spots" in the border with Honduras.
The bishop blamed "the ideology that governs this government, which is based in Marxist-Leninist thought," for much of the violence. However, in practice, Ortega's oligarchy was engaging in "crony capitalism … that doesn't even answer to the idea of communism because access to government-generated wealth is only available to those close to the government," he noted.
The Marxists "want to dirty the most sacred thing the people have: their faith. This hurts me," he said, adding, "I have never praised the positions of an ideology that is born of atheism and of Marxism-Leninism. I could never, through thought or through religious training, go into Catholicism with those ideas."
The Nicaragua militia attempted to assassinate Mata in July 2018, shooting up his convoy and, when failing to kill him, tried to set it on fire.
In his public address last July 19, Ortega expressed his fierce reaction to the democratization path for Nicaragua presented by the bishops earlier in June. Ortega's response was to accuse them of "supporting a coup d'état."
"I thought they were mediators, but no, they were committed to the coup plotters. They were part of a plan with those preparing a coup," Ortega said.
Ortega's Sandinista National Liberation Front has ruled Nicaragua for most of the past four decades. Ortega himself led the country first from 1979 to 1990 and then from 2007 to today. He has appointed his wife, Rosario Murillo, the nation's vice president.