Nicaraguan priests kidnapped from parishes amid continued crackdown on Church

Fathers Ivan Centeno, left, and Julio Norori are pictured in an undated combination photo. The Nicaraguan priests were abducted Oct. 1, 2023, by plain-clothed individuals, prompting fears they were taken by paramilitaries. The churchmen have been identified as pastors of parishes in the Diocese of Estelí in Nicaragua's northwest region, where imprisoned Bishop Rolando Álvarez is apostolic administrator. (OSV News photo/courtesy Immaculate Conception of Mary Parish and St. John the Evangelist Parish Facebook page)

MEXICO CITY (OSV News) — A Nicaraguan priest has been reported kidnapped from his parish residence as the country’s increasingly totalitarian regime continues cracking down on the Catholic Church and silencing all dissenting voices.

Father Álvaro Toledo was taken by police at 10:30 p.m. local time Oct. 5, according to a Facebook post from Radio Stereo Fe, which belongs to the Diocese of Estelí. Father Toledo was identified on social media as pastor of Our Lady of the Assumption Parish in the community of Ocotal.

The abduction of Father Toledo marked the latest in a wave of kidnappings carried out against priests in the Diocese of Estelí, located in the country’s northwest, where imprisoned bishop Rolando Álvarez is apostolic administrator.

Three other priests were reported abducted from their parishes in less than a week.

Fathers Ivan Centeno and Julio Norori were abducted Oct. 1 by plain-clothed individuals, prompting fears the priests were taken by paramilitaries.

Immaculate Conception of Mary Parish in the municipality of Jalapa, where Father Centeno is pastor, said in an Oct. 1 Facebook post: “Brothers, we ask for your prayers for our parish and our priests. United in prayer!!!”

Independent Nicaraguan media outlet 100% Noticias quoted a witness saying, “Four men in civilian clothes were waiting for Father Julio Norori,” pastor at St. John the Evangelist Parish in the town of San Juan del Río Coco.

Nicaragua media later reported Father Cristóbal Gadea, pastor of the Our Lady of Mercy in the Diocese of Jinotega, was also abducted on the night of Oct. 1. The priest was lured from his parish residence on the night of Oct. 1 and arrested, according to 100% Noticias.

Yet another priest, Father Erick Ramírez, also was reported missing. But his parish later said via social media that he was in “perfect condition” at his church.

The abductions provoked outrage from Nicaraguans forced into exile — and stripped of their Nicaraguan citizenship, in some cases — by the regime of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo.

“The fierce persecution of the Catholic Church continues. I ask the church around the world for their prayers for our persecuted church!” Auxiliary Bishop Silvio José Baez of Managua said via X, formerly known as Twitter. Bishop Baez has resided in Miami since 2019 after being asked by the Vatican to leave Nicaragua for his own safety.

Church repression has hit such levels that priests in Nicaragua report spies sitting in their celebrations of the Eucharist and feast day celebrations have been largely curtailed. At least three priests traveling abroad — including two churchmen accompanying pilgrims to World Youth Day in Portugal — have been denied reentry into Nicaragua in recent months, despite being citizens.

At least 151 priests and religious have been forced to abandon Nicaragua, expelled from the country or denied reentry over the past five years, according to a report published Oct. 5 by Martha Patricia Molina, an exiled Nicaraguan lawyer who tracks church repression. Some 31 priests fled the country after suffering threats or acts of intimidation.

The Jesuits in Nicaragua have lost their legal status and the order’s prestigious Central American University was seized in August by the Ortega regime.

Most notoriously, Bishop Álvarez remains behind bars after being sentenced to 26 years in prison — a decision handed down in February after he refused to be exiled with other political prisoners. His condition is unknown.

Nicaragua has severed diplomatic relations with the Vatican, but a senior Vatican official expressed hopes for dialogue.

“A special thought goes to Nicaragua with which the Holy See hopes to engage in respectful diplomatic dialogue for the good of the local church and of the entire population,” Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Vatican secretary for relations between states, said Sept. 26 in remarks to the U.N. General Assembly.

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