Nicaragua and El Salvador bishops push back against government-backed critics

Nicaragua and El Salvador bishops push back against government-backed critics

Chilean President Sebastián Piñera in the funeral of his uncle, Archbishop Bernardino Piñera, Sunday, June 21, 2020. (Credit: courtesy Chile's presidency.)

Bishops in El Salvador have defended the country’s cardinal after he was attacked in social media over his comments about the government. Meanwhile, the president of Chile attended the funeral of his late uncle, a bishop who was under investigation for sexually abusing a minor and a bishop in Nicaragua warned about the persecution of the Church.

ROSARIO, Argentina – Bishops in El Salvador have defended the country’s cardinal after he was attacked in social media over his comments about the government. Meanwhile, the president of Chile attended the funeral of his late uncle, a bishop who was under investigation for sexually abusing a minor and a bishop in Nicaragua warned about the persecution of the Church.

These are some of the top stories from Latin America.

Salvadorian bishops defend their own

The Bishops Conference of El Salvador released a statement on Sunday defending Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chávez after the “attacks in social media” the prelate received recently, due to a series of statements he made on the situation in the country.

Almost two weeks ago, Rosa Chávez told a local TV station that he saw the first year of President Nayib Bukele as “confrontational.”

“We see a permanent confrontation, there were offenses, insults, delegitimization of the adversary in the middle of the [COVID-19 coronavirus] tragedy,” the cardinal said. “We cannot accept that as correct. There are more years ahead, and we hope that the course will be corrected, because, as we are going, the country is going to suffer more than expected.”

Rosa Chávez had also given his opinion on the government’s handling of the pandemic and its effects on the economy, joining the voices that called for a gradual reopening of the country with strict safety protocols to avoid the spread of the virus. He called for dialogue between all parts of the country because “a dictatorial position does nothing to make us all feel included.”

On the management of public resources during the crisis, the cardinal said that there’s been no “complete, credible and serious report on how the funds” are being allocated.

“Government control in that field has to be very critical, very thorough, very detailed, very serious because it is the people’s money, and I think there were too many abuses here in the indiscriminate use of state funds,” he concluded.

These statements caused an adverse reaction on social media from supporters of Bukele, the 38-year member of the center-right GANA party. He ran for office with the promise of building a “new era” for the violence-torn country, but he’s been criticized by the opposition since winning the election for being dictatorial, autocratic and even fascist.

Bukele’s strict COVID-19 policies and the handling of the endemic gang violence in the country have both been controversial. He came under fire for the overcrowded conditions in the jails, where he has forced members of rival gangs to be jammed half-naked into the same cells.

The bishops defended Rosa Chávez saying that they “know his trajectory and the important services he’s rendered to the Church and to the country. That is why it seems very unfair to us and unacceptable that he’s being attacked and offended on social media.”

“We consider it an attack not only on him, but on the Church,” the bishops wrote. They also said they’re worried about the “clear polarization” in El Salvador, adding it does not favor the “social peace we so need in our country.”

Chilean president bids farewell to his uncle, a bishop accused of abuse

Chilean President Sebastián Piñera attended the funeral of the archbishop emeritus of La Serena, Bernardino Piñera, who died at the age of 104 awaiting the ruling from the Vatican over an investigation that he had sexually abused a minor.

The president is the nephew of the late archbishop, and attended the funeral with his wife, First Lady Cecilia Morel. A video published on Twitter shows he asked the casket be opened so he could bid his goodbye, despite the warnings of many of those present that it violated safety protocols imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The archbishop led La Serena from 1983 to 1990, and was president of the Chilean Bishops’ Conference between 1984 and 1988. Last year, he became the last of a long list of Chilean bishops and priests accused of sexually abusing minors, in a country where, between 2018 and 2019, 50 percent of the hierarchy was investigated for either abuse or its cover up.

RELATED: On Chile, Pope Francis is way past the tip of the iceberg now

Last year, the Holy See’s embassy to Chile announced that Piñera was being investigated by the Vatican over allegations that he sexually abused a minor 50 years ago.

Soon after, the president said: “As a nephew, I find it hard to believe because I know his behavior, his attitude over a lifetime, and I find it hard to believe a complaint that is made against a man who’s 103 years old today, over an alleged event that occurred 50 years ago.”

RELATED: New revelations on sex abuse hit Chilean Church

The Vatican’s announcement only confirmed that Piñera was accused of abusing a minor, but gave no further details about the accusation, and no update has been provided, so the bishop died before the investigation was concluded.

Nicaraguan bishops preach on bravery amidst persecution

On Sunday, many Catholic leaders around the world – including Pope Francis – used the day’s Gospel reading to reflect on modern day Christian persecution.

Persecution can happen both in countries where Christians are a minority and in nations where they make up most of the population.

This is the case the Catholic Church faces today in Nicaragua, where the bishops have been accused by the government of President Daniel Ortega of staging a coup to bring him down.

Bishop Rolando Alvarez of Metagalpa, said that much like Jesus had sent his apostles “as sheep among wolves,” so is God sending “us today in the midst of people who want to build a world with their own ephemeral truths: Superficial, transient, changeable, light, discardable.”

“People who want to build a world with their own inventions, their own intelligences, their own myths, their own deceives and with even their own lies,” the bishop said during his Sunday homily.

The country’s youngest bishop, Alvarez once had his car shot at by government supporters.

He also said that in this time of pandemic, the principles of the Gospel so “fundamental for living rightly in a society, such as freedom, justice, peace, the dignity of a person, human rights and the respect to the rights of others can be lost in the worldly noise of avarice and ambition.”

Bishop Jose Baez, auxiliary of Managua, who received so many threats to his life that he was forced into exile at Pope Francis’s request, shared his homily on Twitter.

“The powerful of yesterday and today, when they feel accused by the prophetic word that unmasks their injustices and corruption, try to discredit or eliminate the prophets. It’s their favorite weapon. But prophets are never alone,” Baez said.

The bishop also said that preaching the Gospel can lead to “sooner or later being rejected or persecuted. This is why many believe it’s best to stay quiet.” Yet he argued that being courageous and free means not allowing oneself to be “conditioned by worldly interests or fear.”

“Sooner or later, God manifests himself in solidarity with those who are marginalized, persecuted or threatened to death due to justice,” Baez said.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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