The President of Nicaragua has called priests 'killers' and 'coup plotters' during a televised speech to mark the 43rd anniversary of the country's police force.
Daniel Ortega took aim at the Catholic Church for promoting democracy and acting on behalf of "American imperialism". He accused the Catholic Church for being "the perfect dictatorship" for not allowing members to elect the Pope.
"If they are going to be democratic, let them start with Catholics voting for the pope, for cardinals, for bishops," he said.
Many human rights activists across the world have accused Ortega of running a campaign against the Catholic Church in the country.
Last month, the government decided to close six catholic radio stations arguing they didn't have the correct broadcasting permits.
It also arrested the leader of the Catholic dioceses of Matagalpa, Fr Rolando Lopez, and eight other church leaders, for "organising violent groups and inciting them to carry out acts of hate against the population … with the aim of destabilising the Nicaraguan state".
The Church has backed civil protests against Ortega's government since 2018.
The tension between the two grew in March when the country expelled the Vatican's ambassador to the country.
Ortega continued: "I would say to his holiness the Pope, respectfully, to the Catholic authorities, I am Catholic. As a Christian, I don't feel represented," he said, referencing the church's "terrible history".
"Since when have priests been in a position to carry out a coup d'état? Since when have they had the authority to speak of democracy?"
He added: "The Holy Catholic Church by burning, killing, incinerating, persecuting, organising crusades to assassinate those who did not share its creed, blessed and gave a holy ordinance to the conquerors who invaded our lands".
Responding to requests from Catholics for him to intervene in the tensions, The Pope insisted on the importance of "never stopping the dialogue" with Nicaragua.
"There is a dialogue. We are talking with the government," the pontiff said. "That does not mean that we approve of everything the government does, or that we disapprove it".