According to one bishop, Nicaragua has been living a “moral cold war” since the civil uprising that has left hundreds of people dead began in April 2018; Colombia is no longer in a state of “emergency, but of social survival”; and the papal representative in Chile shared his thoughts on the situation of the local church, which has been hit hard by the clerical abuse crisis. These are just some of the headlines from the Church in Latin America.
Nicaragua, a moral cold war
According to Bishop Rolando Alvarez of Metagalpa, the country has been living in a “moral cold war” that has caused hundreds of deaths since the civil uprising against the government of Daniel Ortega began in April 2018.
“Regretfully and painfully we have arrived at an extreme, where people cannot even look at one another, where people have been stigmatized, where it has become a social crime to sit with another due to their political standing or thoughts,” he said during Sunday Mass.
This division, he said, has caused not only exclusion but rejection among those who stand on different sides of the political divide.
“Do you believe that a society clashing in a moral cold war can overcome itself?” Alvarez said.
The civil uprising against Ortega began 21 months ago. What was supposed to be peaceful protest became a bloodbath, with the government sending tanks to disperse the crowds and allegedly ordering extrajudicial executions of members of the opposition leadership. Observers estimate that between 328 and 651 people died.
“We cannot overcome the crisis this way, confronted no longer in politics and in positions, but also morally,” Alvarez said. “The government needs to cover itself in humility and recognize that they are in need of an agreement.”
According to the prelate, Ortega sees this request to acknowledge the need for dialogue as “caving in, as yielding the king, yielding the queen.”
“We cannot turn the future and present of Nicaragua into a game of chess or only political strategy,” he said.
Addressing the opposition, Alvarez said that “those who could be the government’s interlocutors in these efforts must also be filled with humility, to avoid extreme radicalisms, disqualifications, divisions, and [to avoid prioritizing the] interests of social, political and economic groups, which often come before the greater interest, which is Nicaragua.”
The general assembly of the Organization of American States had recommended a third round of negotiations between the government and the opposition, but both sides refuse to take part in these efforts. In the first attempt, the Catholic bishops had served as mediators, while in the second, only a handful of them were allowed into the talks as observers. Among them was the papal representative, Polish Archbishop Waldemar Stanisław Sommertag.
The opposition refuses to engage in dialogue efforts until the government upholds the commitments made during the previous rounds, including a promise to uphold the Constitution on human rights, protections for freedom of expression and the freedom of the press, the release of political prisoners, and the safe return of thousands of exiles.
Colombia, social survival
After 17 human rights activists were killed during the first 17 days of 2020, the Colombian bishops’ conference released a statement saying that they feel “immense pain and concern” after receiving daily news of assassinations and threats of violence.
Released Jan. 17, the statement also says that the bishops want to express their solidarity with the survivors, family members and friends of those who “lost their lives in this wave of violence and senseless death.”
“We insist on the need to implement a national public policy to deal with this threat, which includes protection initiatives, timely responses to warnings and the effective presence of state institutions in the most vulnerable communities,” they wrote.
Calling the right to life “sacred,” and the murders of the human rights activists a “threat to democracy,” the prelates address newly elected municipal and regional administrations, urging them to devise plans to protect social leaders.
Last week, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed alarm at the “staggering number” of social activists killed in Colombia, despite the 2016 peace accord that was meant to put an end to a decades-long civil war while improving living conditions in poor and rural areas.
According to the UN, 107 human rights defenders were killed in 2019.
“This vicious and endemic cycle of violence and impunity must stop,” said Marta Hurtado, spokeswoman for the high commissioner.
The vast majority of the deaths happened in rural areas with higher-than-average rates of poverty and where illegal armed groups operate. Some of these areas were previously controlled by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
According to Archbishop Dario de Jesus Monsalve of Cali, there are no guarantees to proclaim the truth within the country.
“What we are experiencing in Colombia is no longer an emergency, but a situation of social survival, to ensure that life is maintained in the midst of so many threats,” he said at an event commemorating a judge murdered in December after he was tasked with investigating organized crime.
The archbishop also said that he had invited diplomats and even UN representatives to open up their headquarters as a refuge to those brave enough to give the names of the people responsible for the attacks against human rights activists and other social leaders.
Chile: Papal representative acknowledges crimes
Spanish Archbishop Alberto Ortega, appointed by Pope Francis as his representative in Chile, spoke with the Spanish online outlet Religion Digital about the situation of the local church after 10 of its bishops were summoned by the civil authorities to answer accusations of either committing sexual abuse or covering it up.
“I am aware of the difficult context,” he said. “It is a church with vitality even though it has suffered a very difficult circumstance because of the issue of abuse and because of some members who have made mistakes, who have committed crimes.”
“But I am convinced that the positive prevails and that we have the opportunity to purify,” Ortega said. “We face an occasion for conversion, to learn and to improve. To take a step forward. There are enough elements to continue offering an important contribution for the good of the Church, but also for the whole society.”
“It is a church with great potential,” he said. “It is time to cheer her up and make her aware (since we are all weak instruments) of the precious mission that we can offer for the good of all.”