Leon, Nicaragua – A group of masked men entered the home of a priest in the Diocese of León in Nicaragua and savagely beat him in the early hours of Saturday, in a new direct attack against the Church in the country.
Unidentified men entered the home of Fr. Abelardo Toval Ayesta, the pastor of Saint John the Baptist of Sutiaba parish in León, and struck him hard in the face and ribs, and even tried to suffocate him.
Fr. Victor Morales, communications director for the Diocese of León, told the media that “three people came in through the courtyard with faces masked, tied up (the priest), beat him badly and left him tied up. The stole several valuables from him.”
Following the incident, the auxiliary bishop of Managua, Silvio José Báez Ortega, strenuously protested the attack.
“I deplore and condemn the brutal aggression inflicted today by masked men on Father Abelardo Toval, the pastor of Sutiava in León. The priest is in danger of losing an eye. My prayers for him, for Bishop Bosco Vivas and for all the clergy of the Diocese of León,” the prelate wrote on Twitter.
The Archdiocese of Managua reported on Facebook that “His Eminence Cardinal Leopoldo José Brenes, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Managua, has been in direct contact with Father Abelardo Toval of the Diocese of León.”
The cardinal expressed to the priest “his closeness and prayer concerning the violent situation he experienced this morning. (The cardinal) asks the faithful to continue to pray for all the priests.”
Amid Nicaragua’s recent crisis, numerous churches have been desecrated and both bishops and priests have been attacked.
Protests against president Daniel 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.
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.
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