Two churches in the Diocese of Jinotega in northern Nicaragua have been desecrated in the past week, amid rising tensions between the Church and the government of president Daniel Ortega.

At a pro-government celebration July 20, Ortega accused the bishops of Nicaragua of plotting a coup, as they have proposed early elections in response to widespread protests against the government.

The Jinotega diocese announced on Facebook that the night of July 22, uknown persons forced open the window of the Sacred Heart chapel of St. Mark the Evangelist parish in San Rafael del Norte, about 15 miles northwest of Jinotega.

They took the tabernacle containing the Blessed Sacrament, without touching anything else, reported Fr. Noé Armando Flores, the parish priest.

The tabernacle was found later in the day of July 23 in an abandoned field.

And in Jinotega, the chapel of Our Lady of Mt Carmel at Most Precious Blood parish was profaned the night of July 20.

The Blessed Sacrament was desecrated, and the diocese showed photos of a broken window and sacred objects strewn on the ground. Sound equipment and a collection box were stolen.

At least eight Catholic churches have been desecrated in Nicaragua during the country's three months of political and social unrest.

Protests against president Ortega which began April 18 have resulted in more than 300 deaths, according to local human rights groups. The country's bishops have mediated on-again, off-again peace talks between the government and opposition groups.

Barricades and roadblocks are now found throughout Nicaragua, and clashes frequently turn lethal. Bishops and priests across the country have worked to separate protesters and security forces, and have been threatened and shot.

Nicaragua's crisis began after Ortega announced social security and pension reforms. The changes were soon abandoned in the face of widespread, vocal opposition, but protests only intensified after more than 40 protestors were killed by security forces initially.

Anti-government protesters have been attacked by “combined forces” made up of regular police, riot police, paramilitaries, and pro-government vigilantes.

The Nicaraguan government has suggested that protestors are killing their own supporters so as to destabilize Ortega's administration.

The Church in Nicaragua was quick to acknowledge the protestors' complaints.

The pension reforms which triggered the unrest were modest, but protests quickly turned to Ortega's authoritarian bent.

Ortega has been president of Nicaragua since 2007, and oversaw the abolition of presidential term limits in 2014.

The Church has suggested that elections, which are not scheduled until 2021, be held in 2019, but Ortega has ruled this out.

Ortega was a leader in the Sandinista National Liberation Front, which had ousted the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and fought US-backed right-wing counterrevolutionaries during the 1980s. Ortega was also leader of Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990.

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.