Bishop Rolando José Álvarez of Matagalpa was released from prison by the Nicaraguan government last week, but promptly re-arrested after he refused to leave the country.
The bishop, a prominent critic of Daniel Ortega’s dictatorship, has been the Modelo prison outside the capital Managua since February.
He was the subject of negotiations between the Sandinista regime and the Vatican which led to his release on 4 July in the expectation that he would go into exile in Rome.
However, the negotiations – conducted by video link as Nicaragua “suspended” diplomatic relations with the Holy See in March – collapsed after Bishop Álvarez refused to leave the country “because I have done nothing wrong”. He returned to prison the next day.
Álvarez was sentenced without trial in February to 26 years imprisonment for “conspiracy, spreading fake news, obstructing and disobeying the authorities”, after refusing to board a flight carrying 222 other dissidents including four priests into exile in the US.
Bishop Silvio José Báez Ortega, an auxiliary of the Archdiocese of Managua who has been in exile in the US since 2019, said that Álvarez had told him “he would not leave Nicaragua for any reason unless the Pope ordered him to do so”.
The Archbishop of Managua, Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, maintained his distance from Álvarez, denying his release and dismissing reports of it as “pure speculation”.
Cardinal Brenes has been criticised for his apparent quiescence to the persecution of the Nicaraguan Church by the Ortega regime, which is currently holding three other priests in the Modelo with two more under house arrest.
The European Parliament hase condemned the detention of Bishop Álvarez and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights adopted a resolution on 28 June calling for his release.
In the US, New Jersey congressman Chris Smith, the Republican chair of the House Human Rights Sub-Committee, renewed a request he made in June to be able to visit Bishop Alvarez in prison.
“Bishop Álvarez is a compassionate and honourable servant of God’s people who continues so bravely and selflessly to advocate for other innocent victims who are also being persecuted by the brutal Ortega regime, including his brother priests who remain imprisoned,” Smith said on 6 July.
On 7 July, 80 prominent Catholics from Spain and Latin America published a letter of support for the Nicaraguan Church, specifying the case of Bishop Álvarez.
The signatories included the Spanish Jesuit theologian José Inacio González Faus and the Brazilian nun Ivone Gebara.