A WORKING-CLASS parish in the Nicaraguan capital has been placed under interdict and some of its parishioners excommunicated for beating up the local bishop.
The extraordinary episode shows up the divisions in the Church in Central America, where supporters of liberation theology and basic communities are fiercely resisting attempts by Church authorities to impose traditional discipline on parish structures.
The open defiance of Church authorities in Managua began when the parish of Santa Rosa lost its parish priest, who was transferred to a different part of the city.
The priest. Mgr Jose Arias Caldera, has spent nine years in the parish, during which time he encouraged the growth of basic Christian communities — groups which met regularly for Bible study. reflection on their social duties and the organisation of action on behalf of the poor.
When he was moved by Archbishop Miguel Obando Bravo of Managua, some elements in the parish believed the true reason for his removal had been his support for the Sandinista National Liberation Front, the coalition of Marxists, socialists and Christians that came to power after the guerrilla war which overthrew the dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979.
Though two priests act as ministers in the government. its Marxist connections have made it suspect among Archdiocesan officials.
A body of 80 parishioners occupied the church in protest. After
three days, Auxiliary. Bishop Boco ivas Robelo of Managua was sent to retrieve the Blessed Sacrament. An Archdiocesan spokesman, Fr
Bismarck Carballo, said that the bishop had then been "beaten, dragged and struck on the head. His spectacles were broken and his pectoral cross torn from his chest." Parish leaders say that any scuffling came when the church occupiers stood before the altar to block the bishop's way.
The next day, Archbishop Obando imposed the interdict, which has as one of its effects the closure of the church for worship. The excommunication covers those who were involved in the beating, but mentions no names.
Archbishop Obando said he was taking the measures because of the "sacrilege and desecration" at the church. Leaders of the activists in the parish of 12,000 say that the excommunication was unfair. They say that some of them were beaten by the companions of the bishop who entered the church with him.
The Archdiocese says that Mg ,r Arias's transfer was "routine" i n the first place. Mgr Arias waited more than two weeks, until the anniversary of the overthrow ,r)f Somoza, before disclosing to his people that he was to be transferreii.
His links with the Sandinisims began when he offered some guerrillas his home as a refeige during the civil war. Last Novem'ber the government gave him the Or der of Carlos Fonseca Amador award. Fonseca Amador was the founder of the Sandinista National Liberat ion Front.
Sergio Ramirez, a member of the government junta, said that although the Santa Rosa incident was, an internal church affiar. "It has political consequence s."
"We are becoming used to the many instances of progressive priests, those who identify wiftb the revolution, who are 'neutralizied' by being removed from their pari shes," he said. "Yet the revolution bi going to happen with or withoiat the Church hierarchy, because many rank-and-file Christians support it."
Mgr Arias, who is to be replaced by newly-ordained Fr Luis lharra, said: "I accept the transfer with discipline and humility."