Fabrizio Casari *, El 19 Digital, March 13th 2023
Pope Francis' words against Sandinista Nicaragua have aroused astonishment in some cases, consternation in others. In criticizing the decision of the judicial authority to impose a harsh prison sentence on Monsignor Rolando Alvarez, Francis has gone far beyond what ecclesiastical language allows, and far beyond what reasonableness suggests.
He has accused President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo of "imbalance," but the truly unbalanced statements seem to be his own, especially when he launches into a comparison as reckless as it is anti-historical - possibly the fruit of rancor and not of knowledge - between the Nicaragua of 2023 and the Russia of 1917 or the Germany of 1935. A truly crude comparison, lacking in depth, impractical in terms of text, context, history and scale. A barroom tale rather than an argument steeped in millennial wisdom such as a Pope should be able to sustain.
It is easy to remind the Pope how accurately the Vatican should know the differences between different historical phases and opposing ideologies. If not by academic knowledge, at least by direct experience, since the Catholic Church was the implacable enemy of the Russian Revolution more than any other liberation process that liberated Europe from the monarchies; while it was the main ally of Nazism. With the blessing of Pope Pius XII and the support of the monarchies, Nazism staged the Holocaust and the military occupation of much of Europe, accompanying its chain of horrors with its fetid presence. So it is precisely the Pope who should have more balance when it comes to assessing the great events of history, both when they produced the irruption of the principles of equity and justice and when they manifested themselves as immense tragedies.
Francis is not a true historian, but at least he should know the history of the Vatican. A history of horror and bloodshed, of ferocity and crimes that have always gone unpunished, a history of oppression and repression, of cosmic ignorance and superstitious prejudices with which it has kept a part of the world ignorant of any scientific knowledge, of any ethics other than that of submission. Under its garb, the history of the Vatican tells of the greatest crimes of history committed by raising the cross.
From the Crusades to the forced evangelization of Latin America, which the Pope cannot ignore. As a Jesuit, he also cannot ignore the deliberate inquisition of its founder, Ignatius of Loyola.
As an Argentinean, he cannot ignore the Vatican's support for the military dictatorships of Videla and Pinochet, of Somoza, Rios Mont, Stroessner and Banzer. Cardinal Pío Laghi blessed the death flights ordered by Massera that unloaded tortured prisoners in the Río de la Plata. And to all this horror is added today the outrageous chain of sexual crimes, as well as the shameful historical event that demonstrated the business and monetary link between his bank - the IOR (Institudo Obras Religiosas) - and the Italian mafia criminality.
The Pope described Bishop Rolando Alvarez as a "very serious, very capable man," forgetting or pretending to forget the bishop's role in the 2018 coup and, even more, the attempt to revive the coup opposition in Nicaragua by using the church pulpit for his vulgar rallies in which he regularly called for revolt against the government. He was offered the possibility of leaving Nicaragua on the same flight as the coup plotters-turned-emigrants, but he refused to leave [because he had been allowed to serve in one of his family’s mansions with delicious food and many to serve him. He thought he would be returned there; but after he was sentenced to 26 years he was sent to the prison near the airport, La Modelo]. The vocation to feigned martyrdom, after all, has always been one of his passions.
The bishop of Matagalpa is neither a prisoner of conscience nor a victim of the clash between institutionality and subversion in the Central American country. He has been and is an active actor in the reorganization process of the right wing coup. Monsignor, of known fascist sympathies and hypertrophic ego, devoid of any spiritual dimension and eager for political protagonism, tried to build a series of provocations to contaminate the civil life of the country and produce a climate of confrontation. The plan consisted in transforming the basilica of Matagalpa into a meeting place and reference point for the entire opposition and the coup plotters of the city. From the basilica would come the provocations, in a crescendo of tension that would configure the Monsignor as leader of the opposition, a role with which he would also launch his candidacy to the summit of the Episcopal Conference. To this end, Alvarez had arranged the use of his private media system, which, with robust injections of lies and false alarms, was to generate attention for him and his war against the government.
The loss of innocence
It is indeed difficult to accuse Nicaragua of a lack of sensitivity to the motives of a church that wants to engage in spiritual and pastoral commitment. The Sandinista Front has always recognized a central role for the Church in the political events of the country, accepting or proposing a mediating role and recognizing its social usefulness and the need to support it. And this despite the fact that the history of the Nicaraguan Catholic church has never shone for progressivism, far from it.
Even in the political affair of the post-coup attempt of 2018, Managua has repeatedly offered the Holy Roman Church willingness to dialogue in exchange for a clear position from the Vatican, demanding respect for the democratic rules of the country and non-interference in its political affairs by religious institutions. An objectively sharable and sensible position, which recognizes in the principle of separation of functions the condition of a possible coexistence.
The Vatican has understandable concerns about Nicaragua. It had an important role which, by its own decision, in order to please the reactionary and fascist instincts of the Church of Rome, it chose to abandon in favor of an open confrontation with Sandinismo.
Due to the very high level of religiosity of the Nicaraguan population, the ecclesiastical hierarchy had been recognized as having a prominent role in the running of the country. Public financing of its activities, government support and the assignment of a role of interlocutor and permanent reference in a model of shared governance.
Today, the demonstration of the role they played in the coup dug an impassable furrow between the faithful and the ecclesiastical hierarchy. The hierarchy pretended to be mediators by lying, but they were the leadership of the coup attempt. The audio and video recordings of priests giving instructions to the coup plotters to hide the corpse of a young community policeman burned alive under a barricade, or of other agitators in cassocks inviting people to wage war, left a deep impression on the Nicaraguan population.
The dominance of the evangelical churches and the membership crisis of the Catholic Church have reduced the specific weight of the NLC, and the end of state financing, together with the loss of its political role, place the ecclesiastical hierarchy on the verge of a crisis of role and perspective. And the situation is likely to be further aggravated by the reduced, almost non-existent capacity of interdiction of the Church, since the government itself, considering itself free of any partition and respect for religious sensibilities, could proceed with reforms that would progressively lead to an even more pronounced secular profile of the juridical and legislative system.
The Pope's words seem to confirm how the Vatican has decided to take the opposition to the Sandinista government into its own hands. With the end of the neutral appearance and the exquisitely religious profile in favor of an eminently political one, it is intended to fill the vacuum left by the coup d'état that has left the country. But Nicaragua has clear respective roles and responsibilities. The Church is responsible for protecting souls, Sandinismo for protecting bodies. Those who think of exerting pressure and threats, convinced that the fearsome weight of the Catholic institution can bend Managua, are making an unforgivable mistake that affects the present and the future of possible relations.
* Translation by Nan McCurdy