Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 1 | Junio 1981



Circumstances Surrounding The Bishop’s Communiqué

Envío team

The grave national and international implications of the situation caused by the bishops’ letter demanding the resignation of the priests who hold government or party positions cannot be overlooked. Despite the bishops’ “rejection beforehand” of any political or partisan use of their statement, it is impossible to consider it merely a difference of opinion between some priests and some bishops.

Nicaragua lived under an oppressive dictatorship for 45 years until it was toppled by a popular insurrection. One of the most significant factors in the Sandinista victory was the tremendous support by the Church, both institutionally and popularly. The Sandinista government continually reaffirms its recognition of the role played by the Christian community in the insurrection and the role it is now playing in the reconstruction. The priests have repeatedly pointed out the lack of contradiction between their priestly vocation and their work to realize the Revolution’s goal of a new society.

There is a profound faith among the Nicaraguan people. The majority are Catholic and have a deep respect for Church authority. The Bishops’ statement causes confusion and creates a climate of conflict and divided loyalties within the Church.

This divisive religious climate is a powerful tool in the hands of the conservative and counter-revolutionary groups within the country. Both ultra-conservative Catholics and small evangelical sects try to focus the attention of the people on strictly “spiritual” matters and actively discourage them from participating in the pressing job of reconstruction.

The bishops’ letter included a strong statement stressing that three Christian centers here, the Instituto Histórico, Centro Valdivieso, and CEPA, are not official Church agencies and have neither their approval nor their recommendation. All of the centers are engaged in educational and religious activities at a grassroots level. None of these centers has ever claimed to be diocesan sponsored but the disassociation in the bishops’ letter could discredit them and cause a lack of confidence in the people. The bishops admit that the matter is out of context in the communiqué.

During the same time, an apparently unrelated incident is occurring which is seen by many as part of a concerted effort to obstruct the progressive elements within the Church. Sister Pilar Castellanos a Franciscan nun from Spain is the principal of the Roberto Clemente School in Ciudad Sandino, a very poor barrio of 55,000 on the outskirts of Managua. During the Literacy Crusade, she directed programs in twenty different locations. She now directs 2,000 students in grade school, high school, adult school and the second phase of the literacy program. These programs go on from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. each day in Roberto Clemente. During Sister Pilar’s recent visit to Spain, her Superior General received two calls, one from the bishop of Granada and the other from Bishop Obando y Bravo’s Vicar General. Both informed the superior that Pilar would no longer be permitted to work in Nicaragua.

This and the bishops communiqué are happening just when opposition parties and the Sandinista Front are preparing for a national forum to discuss and look for solutions to some of the nations most pressing problems.

Those who are trying to destabilize Nicaragua present a picture of a totalitarian country -- atheistic, communist, repressive. The presence of so many priests in public office (in addition to the four priests involved in the current dispute, there are about 16 others in advisory positions) obviously contradicts those charges. Thus, the removal of the priests from office would make the job of discrediting the government easier.

The timing of the bishops’ letter also coincides, on the international level, with the Reagan administrations continued presentation of Central America in terms of an East-West conflict, justifying its policies by portraying Nicaragua as under the domination of Cuba and being her “forward base of operations” as stated on June 3, 1981, by Thomas Enders. The Reagan administration continues to cite the White Papers as a proof of its charges of international terrorism. The veracity of this paper has recently been seriously questioned in articles appearing in the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.

The Revolution’s priorities must be those of confronting the economic problems and the threat of an invasion from ex-Somocista National Guard-training in Honduras and the U.S. The volatile situation on the border with Honduras seems to have cooled, thanks to the Government’s strong determination to have peace and to the diplomatic effort of Father D’Escoto.

The U.S., however, is increasing economic pressures. Besides the cut-off of wheat, it has recently issued an ultimatum to the effect that if Nicaragua buys Cuban cattle to improve the stock, the U.S. will no longer buy Nicaraguan beef. The reason given is the allegation of hoof-and-mouth disease in Cuban cattle, an allegation contradicted by international agencies including the U.N.

All this points out one major flaw in the bishops’ statement. Few analysts would consider that the state of emergency in Nicaragua is over. Finding qualified replacements for these men would be difficult, if not impossible. Under Somoza, only the wealthy had access to higher education and many of those people have left the country. The priests thus feel a deep obligation to serve the country, in light of the privileges they have received. They also point out the role of personal conscience in decision-making, a factor recognized by the Church.

The international news agencies continue to disseminate distortions, misrepresentations and misinformation regarding the Nicaraguan reality and Nicaragua has few resources to counter this. An AFP cable sated, “the document withdraws authority from the Valdivieso Historical Institute, a religious association which, according to the bishops, maintains a Marxist viewpoint in religion.” First, there is no Valdivieso Historical Institute. Second, the bishops did not withdraw authority; they clarified that it was not a diocesan organization. Third, the communiqué does not attribute a “Marxist viewpoint” to the centers.

Local headlines such as “The Church Has Now Spoken’.” and “Priests in Rebellion” mistakenly indicate an accomplished, irreparable breach. The truth is that the priests are asking for a dialogue and their statements, like those of the bishop, are an active part of that dialogue and not an act of rebellion. It is hoped that the bishops will respond in the same spirit of dialogue.

Central American Historical Institute
Apartado A-194
Managua, Nicaragua

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Dear Friends

Events Preceding The Declaration Of The Bishops Of Managua

Excerpts From The Nicaraguan Bishops Communiqué Of June 1, 1981

Priests Respond To Bishops' Communiqué

Christian Communities In The Revolution

Circumstances Surrounding The Bishop’s Communiqué

Commentary On The Document Of The Bishops
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