A Catholic pastor in Nicaragua’s Mulukuku has been detained for undisclosed reasons amid a growing crackdown on the Catholic Church by the government of President Daniel Ortega.
Óscar Benavidez, a parish priest at the Espíritu Santo Parish of Mulukuku was, according to the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights’s (CENIDH) sources, “taken from his vehicle and taken on a patrol to an unknown destination” after Mass on Sunday. The Diocese of Siuna stated following this action that “we do not know the causes or reasons for his arrest, we hope that the authorities keep us informed.”
Since August 4, a bishop, five priests, three seminarians, and two lay-people have been under de facto house arrest in the Episcopal Curia of Matalgalpa after the bishop, Rolando Álvarez, criticized the closure of five Catholic radio stations by the Nicaraguan government days prior. The diocese is being investigated for conspiracy to “destabilize” the country. Benavidez’s church had reportedly expressed support for Álvarez.
Early this month, the Nicaraguan government closed seven Catholic radio stations and prohibited a religious procession over “internal security” reasons. Such developments stem from 2018’s anti-government protests which led to at least 328 deaths by security forces and the detention of hundreds. The government accuses the Church of supporting the protests.
Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, which had its presence in the country since 1988, was shut down in June by the parliament, where Ortega’s party is in the majority. This closure was over accusations of non-declaration of the origins of its funds. In March, the Catholic Church’s ambassador to Nicaragua was expelled from the country.
If officially arrested, Benavidez will become the third priest in the country in 2022.