In an effort to illuminate the internal Nicaraguan scene while Congress is considering whether to resume military aid to the Nicaraguan contras, we invited Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, archbishop of Managua, to give his views.
Your message asking me for an article arrived on Sunday, April 13, just as I finished celebrating Mass, and my first decision was not to grant your request. I must not confuse my pastoral mission with others, however worthy, such as politics or journalism, which are different from the mission that our Lord has entrusted to me. But, I am not obligated to keep silent either. As a man, as a citizen, as a Christian and even as a bishop, I have certain duties that I must fulfill, and these duties compel me to grant your request.
In the Mass I just celebrated, I had to announce, with great sorrow, that some of the offices of the Curia, occupied by the State Security Police since October 1985, had been confiscated by government order, despite the fact that they were built on land occupied by the Apostolic Nunciature.
In these offices there was a small printing press donated by the German Bishops' Conference, which was used to print our bulletin ''Iglesia,'' a strictly intra-ecclesiastical publication. Both the press and the bulletin were seized by the State Security Police, along with all the files, including baptismal records and my own personal seal.
During the Mass, I read the pastoral letter which we, the bishops of Nicaragua, had written for Holy Week. The pulpit was now our only means of disseminating information, because the letter was totally censored and pulled from the pages of the newspaper La Prensa, the only private newspaper in the country, which attempted to publish it, but in vain. We believe that the reason for the censorship was that for the second time we called all Nicaraguans to reconciliation and dialogue as the only way to peace.
It was also announced that the Sunday bulletin with the prayers and texts for the day would not be available because it was confiscated and that my Sunday address would not appear in La Prensa, which, under the heading ''The Voice of Our Pastor,'' had been published for many years in that newspaper, because it too had been censored, despite the special care taken to exclude from it anything that could serve as the remotest excuse for censorship.
''Radio Catolico,'' the only Catholic radio station, had been closed by the State several months earlier. It was at this point, when the Church was gagged and bound, that your request arrived.
The reading for the day, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, was about an incident that pricked my conscience. The Sanhedrin sent for Peter and John, intending to force them into silence. ''But Peter and John said to them in reply: 'Is it right in God's eyes for us to obey you rather than God? Judge for yourselves. We cannot possibly give up speaking of things we have seen and heard' '' (Acts 4:18-20).
I felt then that I ought to tell the truth and speak as a prophet speaks, even at the risk of being a ''voice that crieth in the wilderness.'' I would explain to those that have ears to hear the sensitive situation of our Church and the serious danger we place ourselves in simply by speaking out.
I am reminded of the incident related in the 22nd chapter of Matthew: ''Then the Pharisees went away and agreed on a plan to trap him in his own words.'' The method they chose was to appeal hypocritically to His spiritual authority, saying: ''Master, you are an honest man, we know; you teach in all honesty the way of life that God requires. . . . Give us your ruling on this: are we or are we not permitted to pay taxes to the Roman emperor?'' Jesus was aware of their malicious intention and said to them: ''You hypocrites! Why are you trying to catch me out?''
History repeats itself, and this is the situation of the Nicaraguan Bishops, a situation that we denounced in our recent pastoral letter. An appeal is made to our moral authority and to our position as spiritual leaders of the people. We are asked to make a statement on an extremely sensitive political matter, but the real objective is not to seek moral guidance, but rather to use our statement to manipulate opinion.
If Jesus had answered that taxes should be paid to Caesar, He would have become a collaborator of the occupying Roman imperialists. If He had answered no, he would have become a criminal and an agitator who violated the laws of the land. If He had not answered at all, He would have lost His authority in the eyes of the people.
We are asked to issue a statement against U.S. aid to the insurgents. The state-controlled communications media, the organizations of the masses in the service of the system and their allies in the so-called People's Church and the minister of Foreign Affairs, Father Miguel d'Escoto, are all clamoring for our statement. But, as I mentioned, it is not moral guidance that is sought, since on several occasions our Conference of Bishops has already stated that it was against any outside interference, whether by the United States or the Soviet Union. (Pastoral letter of April 22, 1984). The intention is to use the statement to manipulate.
While no effort was spared in suppressing our earlier statements, this statement would be given international publicity. Not for the faithful -- but for the U.S. Congress. But we are not pastors to the Congress of the United States.
If we were to support military aid to the insurgents, we would be persecuted as traitors. If we opposed aid, we would be accused of taking sides, which would automatically disqualify us as pastors to all of the people. If we remain silent, our silence would be considered guilty, the silence of complicity.
It can be argued that the U.S. Conference of Bishops has more than once issued statements on political matters. But there is one big difference: the U.S. bishops' statements are made freely, they are addressed to their own people and their purpose is to provide moral guidance. They can make such statements in complete freedom, and they can give their reasons, with full access to the communications media. Their words are not censored, twisted or distorted. But above all, their statements do not make them criminals and traitors to their country.
In Nicaragua any dissident from the Sandinista cause can be placed outside the law through an ingenious distortion of the truth:
The government, with all the media under its control, has taken great pains to convince the outside world that what is happening is essentially a direct attack by the United States on our country. That there is a war, open or covert, between the two countries, and, consequently, any form of assistance to the enemy, whether material or moral, is punishable by law.
Along the same lines, and with equal insistence, it rejects both the idea that an East-West conflict has made of our country a disposable card, a pawn in the game between the superpowers, and the reality of a civil war: an enormous number of Nicaraguans oppose with all their might the turn taken by a revolution that has betrayed the hopes of the Nicaraguan people and even its own promises.
To accept the reality of an East-West conflict would be to admit that the Sandinistas are just as much the tools of Soviet interests as the insurgent forces are of the United States. If this is accepted, aid from the one is equally as deplorable as aid from the other. It would necessitate the withdrawal of the Soviet and Cuban advisors, as well as the withdrawal of all U.S. military aid.
If the reality of an internal conflict between Nicaraguans is admitted, the conclusion could not be avoided that the insurgent dissidents are now in the same position that the Sandinistas themselves once occupied, and, consequently, that they have the same right that the Sandinistas had to seek aid from other nations, which they in fact did request and obtain in order to fight a terrible dictatorship.
To accept this would mean giving the insurgents the title of ''rebels,'' a title that the Sandinistas proudly gave to themselves in former days.
The only possible argument against this is that unlike the Somozan dictatorship, which the Nicaraguan people fought almost unanimously, this is a democratic government, legitimately constituted, which places the interests of the Nicaraguan people above any ideological struggle or international cause, seeks the welfare and peace of the people and enjoys the support of an overwhelming majority.
Unfortunately, this is not true either. To accept this as the indisputable truth is to ignore the mass exodus of the Miskito Indians, who, on numerous occasions, fled in the thousands, accompanied by their bishop, Salvador Schlaeffer. It is also to ignore the departure of tens of thousands of Nicaraguan men and women of every age, profession, economic status and political persuasion. It is to ignore that many of those who are leaders or participants in the counterrevolution were once leaders or members of the Sandinista front or were ministers in the Sandinista government. It is to ignore the lack of any justification for the most terrible violation of freedom of the press and of speech in the history of our country. It is to ignore the progressive and suffocating restriction of public liberties, under the cover of an interminable national emergency law and the continual violation of human rights. It is to ignore the expulsion of priests and the mass exodus of young people eligible for military service . . . None of this is true of a government that has the sympathy and general support of the people.
And this is what the Nicaraguan bishops wish to state:
''It is urgent and essential that the Nicaraguan people, free of foreign interference or ideologies, find a way out of the situation of conflict that our country is experiencing.
"We reaffirm today, with renewed emphasis, what we said in our pastoral letter on Easter Sunday, April 22, 1984:
SK ''Foreign powers are taking advantage of our situation to promote economic and ideological exploitation. They view us as adjuncts to their own power, without respect for our persons, our history, our culture and our right to determine our own destiny.
"Consequently, most of the Nicaraguan people live in fear and are uncertain about the future. They feel deeply frustrated. They cry out for peace and freedom, but their voices go unheard, drowned out by militaristic propaganda on every side.
"We feel that any form of assistance, regardless of the source, which causes the destruction, suffering and death of our families, or which sows hatred and discord among the Nicaraguan people is reprehensible. To choose annihilation of the enemy as the only possible way to peace is inevitably to choose war.''
The Church proposes reconciliation through dialogue as the only real solution, the only way to peace, and maintains, in the words of His Holiness John Paul II, in his visit to El Salvador in March 1983, that this dialogue ''. . . is not a delaying tactic to strengthen positions prior to continuing a fight, but rather a sincere effort to respond, by seeking appropriate solutions to the anxiety, the pain, the weariness and the fatigue of the many who yearn for peace. The many who wish to live, to rise again from the ashes, to seek warmth in the smiles of children, free from terror, and in a climate of democratic cooperation."
This is the text that was censored by the Sandinista government.
We are asked to issue a statement against aid, the Church and the position of our Conference of Bishops, which is trying to guide the Church through turbulent waters, more by the spirit than by the natural sciences and politics of man, which do not seem to hold any solution for such difficult problems. We are in a difficult situation, but we place our faith and trust in the Lord Jesus, the Prince of Peace and the Lord of History.