Nicaraguan regime freezes bank accounts of dioceses nationwide in another wave of church persecution

OSV News
(Jun 2, 2023) National-World

Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes of Managua, Nicaragu

Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes of Managua, Nicaragua, delivers the homily as he celebrates Mass at Divine Mercy Catholic Church in Managua, Nicaragua. (OSV News photo/Oswaldo Rivas, Reuters)

(OSV News) — Nicaragua has frozen the bank accounts of dioceses nationwide as the regime of President Daniel Ortega escalates its persecution of the Catholic Church with accusations of theft and money laundering.

The country's banking regulator also requested of the Nicaraguan bishops' conference and Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes of Managua "the presentation of the documents that show the movements of the dioceses' bank accounts so that the laws of the country are complied with at all times, avoiding the illegal acts that have been committed," according to a May 27 statement from the National Police. The statement describes Cardinal Brenes as "Head of the Nicaraguan church."

The National Police claimed it was informed May 19 of "illicit activity in the management of funds and resources in bank accounts that belonged to persons sentenced for treason." It also claimed that a subsequent investigation found foreign money entered a church bank account "irregularly."

"The result of the investigations confirmed the illegal theft of resources from bank accounts that had been ordered frozen by law, along with illegal activities that are still being investigated as part of a money laundering network that has been discovered in the dioceses of different departments," the statement said.

The statement did not identify specific dioceses or church organizations. Nicaraguan media cited sources saying church bank accounts were frozen across the country, including the Archdiocese of Managua.

"The persecution is real," an exiled priest told OSV News. "They've made accusations of weapons. Now money when the church is experiencing penury."

The independent newspaper Confidencial wrote that the frozen accounts were first reported in the Diocese of Estelí, where imprisoned Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa is apostolic administrator. Bishop Álvarez was sentenced to 26 years in prison in February after a sham trial on charges of undermining national sovereignty and spreading false information.

Two priests there, Fathers Eugenio Rodríguez Benavides and Leonardo Guevara Gutiérrez, were detained May 20 and May 22, respectively, and are being investigated for matters pertaining to a now-extinct Caritas chapter, according to a Diocese of Estelí statement.

Another priest, Father Jaime Iván Montecinos, pastor at St. John Paul II Parish in the Diocese of Matagalpa, was detained May 24 for unknown reasons, according to Nicaraguan media.

The freezing of bank accounts complicates church ministries and the maintenance of parishes.

It also marks an escalation in the regime's antipathy toward the church as it consolidates power and eliminates all spaces for dissent. Churches in Nicaragua provided refuge to protesters against the Ortega regime, while priests accompanied political prisoners — raising the ire of Ortega, who has branded prelates "terrorists."

Pope Francis has called for dialogue, but the Vatican closed its embassy in Managua in March 2023 after Nicaragua proposed suspending diplomatic relations.

By David Agren, who writes for OSV News from Mexico City.

Nicaragua, Catholic Church, religious persecution, Nicaraguan bishops, freeze bank accounts, trending-english