MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, Archbishop of Managua, shocked the congregation at the city's cathedral on Sunday, April 29. He disclosed the existence of a plan to kill “bishops, cardinals and priests.” The plot was allegedly launched by “foes of the pro-life and anti-abortion campaign launched by the Catholic Church.”

Cardinal Obando announced that “reliable sources have told us of [the alleged plot's] existence, but we want to be prudent, so for now we will not give any names.”

In a country in which Cardinal Obando is almost a national hero, the news could not be more shocking.

President Arnoldo Aleman ordered an immediate investigation, while Managua's police department ordered permanent protection for the archbishop.

The announcement also sparked a wave of speculation about when and why a life threat against Church personalities had been issued.

Apparently, the controversy started at an April 4 session at a Managua hotel, where a pro-abortion forum entitled “Pending Sexual and Reproductive Rights, After Cairo and Beijing” took place.

The non-public event, organized by the local feminist group “Sí Mujer” and by “Hivos,” a private Dutch organization, featured Latin American pro-abortion leaders such as Armando Ulloa from Nicaragua, Margot Tapia from the Dominican Republic and Argentinean Martha Alaniz, regional coordinator of “Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir,” the Latin American branch of the U.S.-based pro-abortion group “Catholics for a Free Choice.” That group has been denounced by the U.S. bishops for misrepresenting itself as an authentically Catholic organization.

According to some published accounts, near the end of the meeting Guatemalan participant Laura Elisa Asturias asked Alaniz when a Central American branch of Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir would be opened, “because we need to eliminate the opinion of cardinals, bishops and priests, who make almost impossible any advancement on sexual and reproductive rights,” Asturias said

Enthusiastic claps and cheers immediately followed Asturias' words.

But Nina Lucas, a pro-lifer who works as advisor on moral values at the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education, was not clapping. According to her account of the meeting, the words “the opinion of” were never pronounced by Asturias, and the claps and cheers followed a direct threat against the lives of Catholic clergy.

Contacted by the Register, Lucas, who attended the forum in the company of another pro-lifer, José Tenorio, confirmed her earlier account.

Threat was Taped

Lucas' account was substantiated by the May 12 airing by a local television station of an audiocassette, in which a feminine voice clearly asked for the “elimination of cardinals, bishops and priests,” without any reference to their “opinions.”

After the tape was aired, Auxiliary Bishop Jorge Solórzano told the Register, “You can see now that what was seen as a preposterous theory has been proven real.”

But after the April 4 meeting, Asturias claimed to reporters that she had referred to eliminating the opinions, not the persons, of Church authorities.

Her version was backed by some other conference participants. Germán Arteaga Ríos, a writer from the left-wing quarterly Tesis, told the Register, “I don't think she [Asturias] meant to physically eliminate Church authorities, but just to get them out of the issue.”

However, pro-life activist Tenorio told the local magazine Confidencial that he stood up during the controversial meeting, specifically pointed out that an open threat against the lives of Church officials had just been made, and demanded a clarification or an apology.

“Someone there openly asked for a plan to eliminate cardinals and bishops, and when you say eliminate, you are clearly talking like a mobster, aren't you?” Tenorio said.

A week after his April 29 allegations, Cardinal Obando politely requested police stop protecting him, “because for so many years, I have been protected by the Holy Spirit,” he said.

Msgr. Eddy Montenegro, Vicar General of Managua, said that even though the archdiocese has proof of the threat, “no case will be presented before the judiciary, because that is not the spirit of the Church.” But, he added, Cardinal Obando decided to go public with the case “because he wanted to let the people know that there are very radical people fighting against life.”

Anti-Life ‘Logic’

Meanwhile, in neighboring El Salvador, Archbishop Fernando Sáenz Lacalle of San Salvador expressed his solidarity with pro-lifers in Nicaragua and elsewhere in Central America. He said he was “not surprised with the possibility of the threats, because it fits perfectly in the logic of those who have no hesitation in murdering the unborn.”

Said Archbishop Sáenz Lacalle, “if the threats took place or not is not the most important issue here. What really matters is that there is a culture war, in which pro-lifers are facing forces who have very few moral limits, if any.”

Concluded the Salvadoran archbishop, “Whoever intentionally promotes abortion as a ‘right’ has a criminal mind.”

Alejandro Bermúdez is based in Lima, Peru.