13 March 2023, The Tablet

Nicaragua 'suspends' relations with Holy See

Pope Francis said that the regime's actions were “like bringing back the 1917 communist dictatorship, or the 1935 Hitler dictatorship”.

Nicaragua 'suspends' relations with Holy See

Pope Francis said that he was forced to think that President Daniel Ortega was “mentally unstable”.
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The Nicaraguan government has closed the apostolic nunciature in Managua and its own embassy to the Holy See, after Pope Francis compared President Daniel Ortega’s regime to communist and Nazi dictatorships.

Ortega ordered the “suspension” of diplomatic relations on 12 March, two days after the publication of an interview with the Pope on the Argentine news outlet Infobae to mark the tenth anniversary of his pontificate.

Responding to questions on conditions in Latin America, and on the Nicaraguan government’s attack on the Church, Francis said: “I have no other choice but to think that [Ortega] is mentally unbalanced.”

He praised the jailed Bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando Álvarez, who was sentenced to 26 years imprisonment in February, as “a very responsible man, a very capable man”.

Bishop Álvarez was arrested in August last year, and reportedly refused to leave the country along with 222 other opponents of the regime who were freed and deported in February.

“He wanted to testify and did not accept exile,” said Francis.

The Nicaraguan regime’s conduct, he said, was “like bringing back the 1917 communist dictatorship, or the 1935 Hitler dictatorship”.

Francis continued: “They are a type of crass dictatorship. Or, to use a nice Argentinian expression, guarangas. Uncouth.”

His comments echo remarks by Jan-Michael Simon, the German chair of the United Nations’ Human Rights Group for Nicaragua, whose recent report to the UN Human Rights Council warned of “widespread and systematic human rights violations that amount to crimes against humanity”.

“The use of the justice system against political opponents, as in Nicaragua, is exactly what the Nazi regime did,” he said.

The Holy See's permanent representative to the UN, Archbishop Fortunatous Nwachukwu, expressed “deep concern” when the report was submitted on 8 March.

Archbishop Nwachukwu noted “the deterioration of the socio-political and human rights situation in Nicaragua, with increased restrictions on freedoms of expression, of peaceful assembly and association, along with repressive measures against critics of the government, journalists and human rights defenders, as well as members of the Catholic Church”.

He made an appeal “to overcome hostilities and seek spaces for a constructive dialogue...laying the foundations for the return to a peaceful coexistence based on the respect of the dignity and the rights of all persons, especially those in the most vulnerable situations”.

The closure of the embassies follows a series of attacks on Nicaraguan Church institutions, including media outlets and universities. The regime last week ordered the closure of the Autonomous Christian University of Nicaragua and the John Paul II Catholic University, which expressed “great surprise and deep sadness”.

There is a ban on public religious processions during Holy Week.

The regime has also expelled missionary orders and branches of international Church organisations. Caritas Nicaragua was forced to close by an order on 31 January.

The nunciature itself has been run by a chargé d’affaires since March 2022, when the regime expelled the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag.

The archbishop has since been appointed nuncio to Senegal, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bassua and Mauritania, but the Holy See has not appointed a replacement to Managua.

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