Sounding the Alarm on Anti-Catholic Violence

An in-depth analysis of the global persecution continuing across the globe, including in Nicaragua, China and Nigeria.

A man holds the national flag of Nicaragua at St. Peter's square during the Pope's weekly Angelus prayer on August 21, 2022 in The Vatican.
A man holds the national flag of Nicaragua at St. Peter's square during the Pope's weekly Angelus prayer on August 21, 2022 in The Vatican. (photo: Filippo Monteforte / AFP/Getty)

Being Catholic means having a target on your back in China-controlled Hong Kong, Nicaragua and Nigeria. If the United States ignores its commitment to the cause of international religious freedom as a foreign-policy priority, the martyrdom of our Christian brothers and sisters in such hotspots of persecution is all but assured.    

As Americans, we are privileged to live in a country with an unusually deep commitment to religious liberty. Ours was the first nation to guarantee religious freedom in its constitution. But this liberty is not something to be safeguarded only at home. Those of us who aren’t moved by the suffering of religious believers beyond our borders — and that’s an alarming number of Americans, alas — should know that responding to their plight will promote greater international stability and security. Religious freedom contributes to stable democracy, vibrant civil society, economic growth and development. Its absence is associated with the persecution of other minorities, political extremism, terrorism and economic instability. 

For more than 20 years, our laws have expressly recognized the vital importance of international religious freedom. In 1998, Congress unanimously passed the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), establishing the Office of International Religious Freedom in the State Department, led by an international religious freedom ambassador-at-large. In December 2016, the Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act amended the IRFA to further bolster religious freedom as a foreign-policy priority. President Joe Biden has appointed a skilled diplomat as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom – but religious-freedom experts warn that the IRFA is in danger of becoming dead-letter law as our foreign policy concentrates instead on promoting Big Abortion and the interests of the “LGBTQ” lobby. 

Three recent examples of the plight of persecuted Catholics internationally highlight what is happening as the Biden administration prioritizes progressive ideologies abroad:  


China’s Persecution of Cardinal Zen and Jimmy Lai

In May 2022, Hong Kong authorities arrested 90-year-old Cardinal Joseph Zen based on his relationship as a trustee of the 612 Humanitarian Fund, an organization that provided financial and legal aid to those who were arrested during demonstrations in 2019 against a bill to allow political detainees in Hong Kong to be sent to the mainland for trial. The retired bishop of Hong Kong is a courageously outspoken advocate for religious freedom, democracy and human rights. Hong Kong, once a free and prosperous international financial center, thanks to a treaty signed between the United Kingdom and China in 1984, is now subject to the oppression of the Chinese Communist Party and is devolving into an increasingly repressive society where no one resisting government tyranny is safe, including religious leaders like Cardinal Zen. 

Catholic News Agency reports that it appears that Cardinal Zen has not been indicted under Hong Kong’s national security law, a violation of which could have earned him life imprisonment. Instead, his alleged “crime” was the failure to properly register the 612 Fund as an association. 

The cardinal’s trial will be held in September, just days before the Vatican is expected to announce the renewal of its deal with Beijing on the appointment of bishops for the mainland. Cardinal Zen has been an outspoken critic of Rome’s 2018 deal with Beijing, whereby the Pope gives the Communist Party the authority to nominate bishops. 

Meanwhile Jimmy Lai, a high-profile Catholic convert and pro-democracy businessman, has pleaded not guilty to national-security charges and will face a court panel of three judges handpicked by the Hong Kong government, under sinister laws introduced by Beijing that moved national-security cases away from Hong Kong’s long-established jury trial system.


Nicaragua Turns Against the Catholic Church

On Aug. 19 Bishop Rolando Álvarez of the Diocese of Matagalpa in Nicaragua was taken by police and thrown into jail. This outrageous act – which led to protests by Nicaraguans throughout the Americas – is the latest attack on the Church by the Ortega government. The police have arrested seven other priests on bogus charges ranging from child abuse to disturbing the public order. Another Catholic priest, Father Uriel Vallejos, went into hiding after the police raided his parish’s radio station and surrounded his residence for several days earlier this month. A radio station managed by Father Vallejos was among several Catholic television and radio channels that have been shut down by the government recently. This week, Ortega’s government silenced yet another Catholic radio station.  

Earlier this summer, Ortega’s government outlawed the missionary order founded by Mother Teresa and expelled the order’s religious sisters from the country. Their exile followed the expulsion in March of the Vatican’s envoy to Nicaragua, Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag. 

EWTN News Nightly correspondent Owen Jensen recently raised the issue of the increasing persecution against Catholics in Nicaragua with White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. Jean-Pierre, reading from her press book, seemed oblivious to the fact that Ortega has essentially declared war against the Church.   


New Violence in Nigeria

Religious sisters, seminarians and priests in Nigeria, together with their Protestant fellow Christians, are under constant danger of kidnapping and torture. This past week, unknown gunmen abducted four nuns in Nigeria’s Imo state. Thankfully they were released two days later. The abduction happened while the sisters were on their way to Mass. Aid to the Church in Need reports that 20 Nigerian priests have been kidnapped since the beginning of 2022. Three of those priests have been killed.

Earlier this summer, gunmen attacked St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Owo, Nigeria, killing at least 40 people and injuring scores more with bullets and explosives. The assailants, some of whom sat through the Mass pretending to be worshippers, sprang into action toward the end of the service, setting off explosives and firing bullets into the congregation. 

This atrocity was even more alarming because it marked the spread of religious violence — which plagues the middle stretch of the country, where Islamic northern Nigeria meets the Christian south — to a southern region previously relatively safe from such horrors. Nigeria is not only Africa’s most populous and highly developed country but also one of its most religiously unstable. If it descends into a war of religion, the consequences for the whole of Africa are unthinkable. 

Religion — especially Christianity — has always been a threat to tyrants and thugs. 

Today is no different. 

As Catholics, we must pray for the persecuted. And as Americans, we must demand that our president stand up to religious persecutors in defense of the inalienable right of all people to religious freedom. If he neglects that duty — a real possibility, judging by the seeming indifference of the State Department — then he will be endangering the lives and prosperity of people all over the world. 

Nicaraguan police place Bishop Rolando José Álvarez under house arrest Aug. 4 at the diocesan chancery in Matagalpa, Nicaragua.

Nicaragua Needs More

EDITORIAL: Although the Vatican has offered a muted response, Pope Francis must do more to condemn human-rights abuses in Nicaragua before the Ortega regime exploits papal silence to justify its immoral actions.