Society of Jesus banned in Nicaragua; government moves to expropriate order's assets

A Nicaraguan exiled in Costa Rica holds up a sign reading: "Ortega and Murillo Out! #SOSNicaragua" during the "Vigil of Faith and Freedom" outside the Metropolitan Cathedral in San Jose, Costa Rica, Aug. 19, 2022, to protest against the detention of Nicaraguan Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa, by Nicaraguan authorities. The Nicaraguan regime extinguished the Jesuits' legal status Aug. 23, 2023, and said it will expropriate its assets, effectively making it illegal for the Society of Jesus to operate in the Central American country. (OSV News photo/Mayela Lopez, Reuters)

MEXICO CITY (OSV News) -- The Nicaraguan regime has extinguished the Jesuits' legal status and ordered the expropriation of its assets, effectively making it illegal for the Society of Jesus to operate in the Central American country.

The legal cancellation of the Jesuits on Aug. 23 follows the confiscation of the Jesuit-run Central American University a week earlier, with authorities accusing the school of hosting a "center of terrorism" and seizing its campus in the capital city of Managua.

The Jesuit province in Central America condemned the cancellation, saying in an Aug. 23 statement that this is part of a government policy of systematic repression that violates human rights and appears "to be aimed at consolidating a totalitarian state."

"The decision was made without the record that the administrative procedures established by law have been carried out," the statement continued.

"We hold the president and the vice president of Nicaragua responsible for, at least, endorsing these facts and preventing the existence of conditions of judicial independence and neutrality that would allow measures to stop, reverse and sanction them."

The Nicaraguan interior ministry accused the Jesuits of lacking the proper oversight for a non-governmental group and failing to file tax information with the government between 2020 and 2022. The status of non-citizen Jesuits remains uncertain as the order would lack the legal standing to sponsor their immigration visas.

The cancellation of the Jesuits' legal status in Nicaragua culminates a campaign of hostilities against the order and what had been its best-known project in the country, the Central American University.

The university was seized from the Jesuits, but recently reopened with a new name (Universidad Nacional Casimiro Sotelo Montenegro), a leadership team considered close with the regime, and the ruling Sandinista party's black and red flag flying over the campus.

Six Jesuits affiliated with the Central America University were subsequently evicted from their home Aug. 21, even though they showed a title proving the property did not belong to the university. Other Jesuit projects in Nicaragua include Fe y Alegría educational centers, which serve more than 55,000 students, along with programs for farmers and people with disabilities.

The university came into conflict with the regime of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, after students participated in protests calling for Ortega's ouster in 2018 and school officials opened the campus to wounded protesters fleeing police and paramilitaries.

School officials and students later participated in a national dialogue facilitated by the Nicaraguan bishops' conference to find an exit to the national crisis -- but the bishops later withdrew, alleging bad faith on the government side.

"The University was the last bastion of freedom" in Nicaragua, Enrique Pumar, a sociology professor at the Jesuit-run University of Santa Clara, told OSV News.

He described the relationship between the Jesuits and the ruling Sandinistas, who first took power in a 1979 revolution, as "love-hate." Some Jesuits eagerly backed the Sandinistas and even served in government, but many in the order and the Catholic Church "supported more gradual change" than Ortega, according to Pumar.

The Ortega-Murillo regime has cracked down on the Catholic Church over the past five years, harassing, imprisoning and expelling priests for accompanying the families of political prisoners and speaking out against gross violations of human rights.

Bishop Rolando Álvarez remains imprisoned on a 26-year sentence, which was handed down after he refused to join 222 political prisoners sent into exile and stripped of their citizenship in February.

The regime has canceled, banned and expelled other religious orders, including Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity in 2022 -- raising similar, unproven accusations of internal misgovernance. More than 3,000 non-governmental groups in Nicaragua have lost their legal status.



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