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The Nicaraguan Public Prosecutor’s Office has accused the priest Óscar Danilo Benavidez Dávila, the fifth priest to be charged this month, without specifying the crime he is accused of, judicial sources reported on Monday.
Nicaraguan society and the Nicaraguan state were identified as the “victims/offended” by the 49-year-old priest, who has been detained since 14 August and whose motives for his arrest have not yet been explained.
The accusation was presented by the prosecutor in the case, Manuel de Jesús Rugama Peña, before the head of the Tenth District Criminal Court of Managua, Gloria María Saavedra Corrales, according to the case published by the judiciary.
Father Benavidez Dávila, parish priest of the Espíritu Santo parish in the municipality of Mulukuku, in the North Caribbean Autonomous Region of Nicaragua, was arrested on Sunday 14 August, according to the Diocese of Siuna, to which he belongs and which said it did not know the causes or motives for the priest’s arrest.
The prosecutor’s accusation, like that of four other priests, two seminarians, and a cameraman of the Diocese of Matagalpa (north) who were sued last week, does not specify the offenses for which the priest is accused.
Benavidez is the seventh priest to be charged so far this year in Nicaragua, and the eighth to be held in police custody, including Bishop Rolando José Álvarez Lagos, who was taken by police officers in the early hours of Friday 19 August, along with four other priests who have already been charged, from the episcopal palace of the Diocese of Matagalpa, after having been confined for 15 days.
Álvarez, 55, bishop of the diocese of Matagalpa, apostolic administrator of the diocese of Estelí, both in the north of Nicaragua, and who has been under “house arrest” in Managua since that date, according to the National Police, has not been charged.
The National Police, led by Francisco Díaz, an in-law of dictator Daniel Ortega, accuses the hierarch and his collaborators of attempting to “organize violent groups”, allegedly “with the aim of destabilizing the Nicaraguan state and attacking the constitutional authorities”, although no evidence has been offered so far.
Álvarez is the first bishop to be arrested since Ortega returned to power in Nicaragua in 2007 after leading a government junta from 1979 to 1985 and first presiding over the country from 1985 to 1990.
The arrest of Bishop Álvarez and seven other priests is the latest chapter in a particularly turbulent last year for the Catholic Church in Nicaragua under the Ortega government, which has branded the hierarchs as “coup plotters” and “terrorists”.
This year, the Sandinista government expelled from the country the apostolic nuncio Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag and 18 nuns from the Missionaries of Charity order, founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
It also closed nine Catholic radio stations and removed three Catholic channels from subscription television programming.
Police also forcibly entered and raided a parish church, preventing parishioners from receiving the Eucharist inside the church and besieging other priests in their churches, banning processions with images of saints, among others.
The Catholic community represents 58.5% of Nicaragua’s 6.6 million inhabitants, according to the latest national census, and has complained about the lack of pronouncements by Pope Francis on the situation.