After Pope's Public Comments, Nicaragua Frees Jailed Bishop

Along with 18 other clergy members
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 15, 2024 1:33 PM CST
After Pope Voiced Worries About Nicaragua, a Release
Bishop Rolando Alvarez is seen at a press conference in Managua, Nicaragua, on May 3, 2018.   (AP Photo/Moises Castillo, File)

Nicaragua's government released a prominent Catholic bishop and 18 other clergy members imprisoned in a crackdown by President Daniel Ortega and handed them over to Vatican authorities, who welcomed them in Rome on Sunday. Bishop Rolando Alvarez—described by the New York Times as "one of the most prominent critics of the government left in Nicaragua"—and the other clergy were, in most cases, jailed more than a year ago as part of a crackdown on the opposition and Catholic Church by Ortega.

After civic protests swept the country in 2018, the Wall Street Journal describes the church as taking "a leading role in trying to mediate a political solution to the crisis"; Ortega responded by claiming the church was part of a plot to overthrow him. The Times reports the release followed Pope Francis' mention of the situation in his New Year's Day address, in which he noted he was "following with concern what is happening in Nicaragua, where bishops and priests have been deprived of their freedom." The pope had previously called Ortega's rule a "gross dictatorship" and compared his government to Hitler's, per the Journal.

The government said in a press statement the releases were part of negotiations with the Vatican and that the group arrived in Rome on Sunday afternoon and were welcomed as "guests of the Holy See," reports the AP. Ortega's government said those released also included Bishop Isidoro Mora. Since repressing popular protests in 2018 that called for his resignation, Ortega's government has systematically silenced opposing voices and zeroed in on the church. The Times cites stats compiled by one researcher, who has recorded 782 acts of aggression—including priests being bound and beaten by paramilitary members—against the Catholic Church since 2018. (More Nicaragua stories.)

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