ROME – As the government of Nicaragua continues to tighten its control over anything and anyone it considers part of the opposition, including the leadership of the Catholic Church, the bishops said that they will continue to denounce “the social structures of sin.”

“The church will continue announcing the Gospel, denouncing the social structures of sin, accompanying the people, especially the poor and the weak,” says a statement released Wednesday by the Justice and Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Managua. “The mission of the church will always provoke contradictions in this world, where along with the light there is also the darkness of evil.”

The statement comes days after the deputies of two commissions from the National Assembly discussed “the religious and directors of human rights organizations who were involved in the coup adventure.”

Following these “discussions,” the government of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, expressed its intension to imprison priests for alleged “treason.”

Father Harving Padilla of the San Juan Bautista church in Masaya, on the outskirts of Managua, has been under “church arrest,” with police and pro-government militants barring him from leaving his parish church, while also keeping the faithful out.

Padilla has spoken about being a target of the government since before Easter Week, saying he was being followed by the police and paramilitary in vans.

“They never detained me; I watched them chasing me; some shouted at me as a coup leader, murderer, but they never stopped me directly to attack me or anything,” Padilla said.

In a statement sent to Crux, he said that on Sunday a group of uniformed men arrived in two patrol cars, took pictures during his sermon, and then stopped some parishioners as they were coming out of the church, taking their names and demanding to know their addresses.

“Beginning Sunday, May 15, the police have stationed themselves around the church,” he said. As of late Wednesday, the parish was still under siege.

In their statement, the bishops said that “we are concerned about the situation of the country that we love as children of God, as Nicaraguans and as Christians. We unite in prayer for God to transform hard hearts into sensitive hearts, with love for our neighbor, free of feelings that prevent normality leading to an authentic social peace.”

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They also say that the church “is always present in our joys and also in our sorrows, illnesses, poverty, absences, loneliness, fears and privations. She strengthens us, but her strength is not in human power, which is temporal, nor in material goods, which are ephemeral, but in the power of God.”

Relations between Church and State in Nicaragua have long been strained, but they worsened following the civil uprising that began in April 2018. Hundreds of protesters were killed in clashes with the police, and Catholic bishops and priests opened the doors of their churches for the wounded to hide from the army.

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Earlier this year, the government declared the Vatican’s representative to the country persona non grata, which observers took as a warning against the clergy: When Ortega severed relations with the Nicaraguan bishops’ conference, the nuncio became the main ecclesial interlocutor, interceding on behalf of the families of the hundreds of political prisoners.

Both Ortega and Murillo have referred to priests as “Pharisees,” “devils in cassocks,” and “terrorists.”

The first victim of Ortega’s persecution was Bishop Silvio Baez, auxiliary of Managua: He was forced into exile in Miami in April 2019, following a series of death threats against him and his family. During the weekend, he warned the people of Nicaragua against getting used to “this false normality that reigns fear” and urged the population not to fall “into the temptation of hatred and revenge” despite the constant injustices being committed in the country.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma