07 July 2023, The Tablet

Nicaraguan bishop released then imprisoned after refusing exile

by Peter Pinedo, CNA

Bishop Rolando Álvarez refused to leave Nicaragua unless ordered to do so by the Pope.

Nicaraguan bishop released then imprisoned after refusing exile

Bishop Rolando Álvarez Lagos of Matagalpa, pictured in 2018.
Associated Press/Alamy

Nicaraguan Bishop Rolando José Álvarez Lagos was sent back to prison on Wednesday after negotiations between the Nicaraguan bishops and the government of dictator Daniel Ortega broke down.

Bishop Álvarez of Matagalpa, in Managua, was released on Monday but returned to custody on 5 July after he refused to comply with the Ortega regime’s demand that he go into exile.

Following reports from the Nicaraguan press and human rights activists that he was released from Modelo Prison on Monday night, Álvarez, an outspoken critic of the Ortega dictatorship, has been returned to captivity.

Since his Monday release Álvarez has been sheltered at the headquarters of the Nicaraguan bishops’ conference (Conferencia Episcopal de Nicaragua, CEN) in the capital city Managua.

On 5 July, the Nicaraguan news agency Divergentes reported that CEN and the Vatican were negotiating with the Ortega government on Álvarez’s behalf.

Nicaraguan human rights activist Bianca Jagger wrote on social media that she was informed the regime intended to exile Álvarez to Rome.

Álvarez refused to go into exile unless ordered to do so by the Pope, according to exiled auxiliary bishop Silvio José Báez of the Archdiocese of Managua.

In a statement on 5 July, Báez said that Álvarez had told him “he would not leave Nicaragua for any reason unless the Pope ordered him to do so”.

“He added that it was a decision he made in conscience before God. Thus, there is nothing to negotiate,” Báez said.

“I know Rolando and he would never bargain away a decision of conscience that he made.”

After speaking out against Ortega’s ever-escalating persecution of the Catholic Church, Álvarez, 56, was arrested in 2022 and subsequently sentenced on 10 February after refusing to board a plane carrying 222 political dissidents, including four priests, who were flown to the US in an agreement with the State Department.

Álvarez was sentenced to 26 years and 4 months in prison on treason charges and had his Nicaraguan citizenship revoked.

Under the dictatorship of Ortega and his wife and vice-president Rosario Murillo, hundreds of Nicaraguans, including priests and religious, have been arbitrarily arrested and deported, Church assets and property have been seized, and religious freedom has been greatly restricted.

In March, after Pope Francis strongly criticised the Ortega regime, likening it to Nazi Germany, the dictatorship closed the Holy See’s embassy to Nicaragua, officially cutting off all diplomatic ties with the Vatican.

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