Report: Over 130 Catholic priests and religious arrested, kidnapped, or murdered in 2023

Bishop Rolando Álvarez Nicaraguan Bishop Rolando Álvarez. | Credit: Facebook Diocese Media - TV Merced

Throughout 2023, more than 130 Catholic priests and religious were either arrested, kidnapped, or murdered, according to a new report on Catholic persecution published by Aid to the Church in Need. 

The report published by the Catholic charity found at least 132 instances of arrests, kidnappings, and/or murders, which is slightly higher than the report from the previous year, which found 124. The uptick was mostly driven by arrests from authoritarian governments, which went up from 55 in 2022 to 86 in 2023.

Nicaragua President Daniel Ortega’s crackdown on political dissent among members of the clergy was a primary driver of persecution throughout the year. The report found that the regime held 46 clergy in custody in 2023, including two bishops and four seminarians. This included 19 clerics arrested in December, including Bishop Isidoro de Carmen Mora Ortega of Siuna. 

According to the report, many of the priests in Nicaragua who were arrested before December were either released or expelled from the country and refused reentry. The government also released two of the priests arrested in December, but the other 17 are still in custody. 

Bishop Rolando Álvarez, who was arrested in August 2022 and sentenced to 26 years in prison after refusing to leave the country, is also still in custody. 

Ortega’s administration also expelled religious sisters such as the Missionaries of Charity and shut down Catholic schools and media organizations

The report found that 20 members of the Catholic clergy were under arrest at some point in China throughout the year. However, the report also noted that “confirming the information is almost impossible” and some of the persecuted members of the clergy “remain unaccounted for after many years.” The number could be slightly higher or lower, according to the report.

At least five Catholic clergy and one woman religious were arrested in India in 2023, which was mostly driven by anti-conversion laws, which the report noted “impede the work of the Church.” All of them have been released but could still face charges and even prison time.

There have also been arrests in two European countries. The report found that 10 members of Catholic clergy were arrested in Belarus, three of whom are still imprisoned. Two Greek Catholic priests were also arrested by Russian forces in Ukraine, neither of whom have been released.

The kidnapping of clergy and religious sisters went down in 2023, according to the report, but the problem “remains significant.” The total number of kidnapped clergy and religious was 33 in 2023, which is down from 54 in 2022. 

All but five of the kidnappings took place in Nigeria, where religious and ethnic conflicts have made the country dangerous for Christians. The 28 kidnappings in the country included three religious women

There were also two kidnappings in Haiti. One priest was kidnapped in Mali and another in Burkina Faso. One religious woman was abducted in Ethiopia.

Murders of Catholic priests and other members of the clergy slightly decreased, from 18 in the previous year to 14 in 2023. This includes 11 priests, one bishop, one religious brother, and one seminarian. However, half of these murders were unrelated to persecution or have unclear motives. 

Of the seven murders that are clearly tied to persecution, three were in Nigeria. This includes Father Isaac Achi and a seminarian named Na’aman Danlami, both of whom died in their residences when they were burned down during attacks. It also includes Godwin Eze, a Benedictine brother, who was killed by kidnappers.

Other murders linked to persecution included the murder of Father Pamphili Nada in Tanzania, who was killed by a mentally unstable man; Father Javier García Villafaña, who was shot dead in Mexico; and Father Leopold Feyen, who was stabbed to death in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 

“Many Christians,” the report noted, “and especially clergy and religious, paid a heavy price for their commitment to common good, human rights, and religious freedom in the communities and nations they serve.”

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