The president of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, once again attacked the Catholic Church in the Central American country, accusing it of “calling for bloodshed,” and said, “I never had respect for the bishops.”

The Sandinista dictator made the statement Dec. 19 during the 25th commencement for graduates in police sciences from the Walter Mendoza Martínez Police Academy.

“I never had respect for the bishops, I couldn’t believe in the bishops, in some priests, and in that approach there were exceptions of priests who practiced Christianity like Gaspar García Laviana, who without being Nicaraguan had more commitment to the people,” Ortega said.

Influenced by liberation theology, Gaspar García Laviana was a Spanish priest and guerrilla fighter who took up arms and participated in the communist Sandinista revolution in its fight against the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza in the 1970s.

Ortega’s remarks came a week after the bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando Álvarez, who was abducted in the middle of the night by the dictatorship and has been held under house arrest since August, was accused of “conspiracy to undermine national security and sovereignty” and “spreading fake news.”

Ortega also said that he was raised “in a Catholic, Christian family, but I learned over time that at the end of the day, behind a cassock is a human being. The cassock doesn’t make anyone a saint, the habit doesn’t make the monk.”

The dictator recalled the 2018 protests that demanded his removal from power. In particular, he referred to the police intervention in the town of Masaya, where the regime also attacked the Catholic Church on several occasions.

“They thought that the police were defeated and the attacks were in different quarters every day, and they came out of some churches, not all the churches, but some churches where the Pharisees were, the whitewashed tombs, from those churches they came out and from an apartment where some priests even openly came out wearing the cassock, exploiting the blood, calling for bloodshed,” Ortega said.

After saying that his “first inspiration” to “fight for the poor” was Christ, the Nicaraguan dictator said that he “couldn’t trust the priests; there are some priests that I had respect, love for; others, I couldn’t have respect or love for them because of their attitudes.”

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“Take note, the leadership of the Catholic Church in Nicaragua, the bishops, they were all Somoza supporters, they preached somocismo (Somoza-ism), in the name of God they sanctified somocismo. Yes, they were Somoza supporters, and the greatest shame.”

In recent months, persecution against the Catholic Church in Nicaragua has increased.

In addition to the abduction of Bishop Álvarez and the arrest and exile of several priests, the dictatorship has expelled from Nicaragua Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity and the apostolic nuncio.

The Ortega dictatorship, in power since 2007, has also shut down several Catholic media outlets.

The recent study “Nicaragua: A Persecuted Church?” detailed that, under the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega, the Catholic Church in the country has suffered close to 400 attacks in the last four years.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.