'Missionaries Of Charity' Expelled From Nicaragua — Government Crackdown On Catholic Church, Explained
The Sandinista regime of President Daniel Ortega has ordered nuns belonging to the Mother Teresa-founded 'Missionaries Of Charity' to leave the country, after the Jesuit organisation was stripped of its legal status.
Context: The order comes in the light of heightened tensions between the Catholic church and the Ortega government; the latter has governed the Central American country for 15 years.
The current phase of confrontation between the Sandinista government and the Catholic church began in 2018 when the clergy was accused of sheltering protestors against Ortega during anti-government protests that year.
The Catholic church says it has been the target of nearly 200 attacks, desecrations, harassment, and intimidation of bishops and priests.
Government justification: According to the Nicaraguan authorities, the Missionaries of Charity "failed to comply with its law obligations," and specifically with "Law 977" on money-laundering, financing of terrorism, and financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
It's been complicated, the relationship between Sandinista and the Catholic church, marked by periods of collaboration and confrontation.
Until the end of the Cold War, Marxism and Christianity were among the powerful ideological forces competing to wield influence.
While the Catholic church officially denounced any attempts to find common ground between the two worldviews, a significant section of the clergy proposed "liberation theology."
Liberation theology is the belief that, when taken in conjunction, Christianity and Marxism could work together to achieve a more equitable society.
In the late 1950s and 1960s, poverty-struck radical youths, mostly Catholics, found the Marxist revolution attractive in Latin American countries. Liberating theologians offered them a heady mix of Marxism and Christianity to counter it.
To its proponents, liberation theology was a solution to the seemingly endless cycle of economic and social stagnation through a combination of revolution, class struggle, and political activism on the part of the Church.
To Pope John Paul II and many other observers, liberation theology was a radical teaching that threatened to justify the tyranny of Marxism.
Pope John Paul II, who, as a Polish Catholic, had firsthand insight into the catastrophic consequences of Marxism, had no love lost for liberation theology.
So, while the Vatican was implacably opposed to liberation theology in the Cold-war West in the 1970s and 1980s, it was allowed to spread in Latin America and countries like India and Israel.
Caught in this crossfire was Nicaragua, where the Catholic clergy continued to wield power in the hierarchy of the Marxist-Leninist Sandinista regime.
The left-wing Sandinista Liberation Front Party, under Ortega's leadership, stormed to power in the small Central American country in 1979, overthrowing the US-backed family dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza.
The party is named after Augusto César Sandino, who led the Nicaraguan resistance against the US occupation of Nicaragua in the 1930s.
The opposition: The Catholic church opposed the Sandinista struggle in the 1960s and 1970s because of its Marxist revolutionary fervour and loyalty to the Somoza regime.
However, sensing that the Somoza regime was becoming unpopular due to acts of repression and human abuses, the liberation theologians of the church began to move away from the Somoza regime strategically.
By the time the Sandinistas ascended to power through a 'revolution', a large section of the church was seen supporting the Sandinistas when they overthrew Somoza.
An influential Jesuit priest and liberation theologian, Father Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, even went on to become foreign minister in Ortega's new government in 1979, a post he held until 1990.
In 1985, Pope John Paul II suspended Father Brockmann from his ministry as part of a broader crackdown on adherents of liberation theology.
The ouster: Given that the Sandinista government rose to power during the peak of the Cold War, Nicaragua was considered a dangerous proxy state of the Soviet Union in US's backyard.
The US was seen as sponsoring a right-wing insurgency to topple the regime, with the help of "Contras."
Eventually, Sandinistas had to enter into a negotiated settlement with the Washington-backed counter-revolutionaries.
The Sandinista government was ousted from power in the early 1990s.
Dramatic comeback: In 2007, Ortega returned as President of Nicaragua after 16 years in the wilderness.
His victory was partly attributed to his backing of a total abortion ban, also supported by Nicaragua's conservative Catholic hierarchy.
He also often resorted to the use of religious imagery to drive home his populist message and frequently touted his late-life conversion to Catholicism.
After his comeback, Ortega also won the support of Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, one of Nicaragua’s most influential Catholic clergy.
As Ortega began a crackdown on political opponents to establish complete control over power, the church again emerged as a voice of resistance.
But, with the death of Obando in 2018, Ortega turned against the church.
Where they're at now: The government's relationship with the church is now in a state of breakdown.
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