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Nicaraguan bishop taken into custody

19 August 2022

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Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes walks with pilgrims during celebrations for the Virgin of Fatima, at the Metropolitan Cathedral, Managua, on Saturday

Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes walks with pilgrims during celebrations for the Virgin of Fatima, at the Metropolitan Cathedral, Managua, on Saturday

THE Nicaraguan bishop at the centre of escalating tensions between the government of Nicaragua and the Roman Catholic Church has been removed from house arrest and taken to an undisclosed location, according to sources in the country.

Local news outlets reported that the Bishop of Matagalpa, the Rt Revd Rolando Álvarez, who had been confined to a church compound since 4 August, was removed by police during the early hours of Friday morning, along with eight others who were also in the building.

Even before this latest turn, the Vatican had expressed concern about the situation in the Central American country, while a prominent human rights campaigner described the president as waging a “war” on the Church. 

On Thursday of last week, the Vatican Permanent Observer to the Organization of American States, Mgr Juan Antonio Cruz Serrano, said that the Church and the government must “find ways of understanding, based on respect and mutual trust, seeking above all the common good and peace”.

The statement followed the house arrest two weeks ago of the Bishop Álvarez (News, 12 August). After his detention, the national police put out a statement accusing him of “attempting to organize violent groups, inciting them to carry out acts of hatred against the population, creating a climate of anxiety and disorder, disturbing the peace and harmony of the community, with the purpose of destabilizing the Nicaraguan State”.

On Sunday, another priest was arrested, Vatican News and Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported. Fr Óscar Benavides, from the diocese of Siuna, is reported to have been transferred to a prison in the capital, Managua, where the government holds, and allegedly tortures, political prisoners.

In early August, the government closed several radio stations owned by the Church, the TV network Al Jazeera reported.

Relations between the government and the RC Church had been particularly fraught since the re-election of Daniel Ortega as President in 2021. President Ortega, who is serving a fifth term, was accused of election fraud and persecuting political rivals. His wife, Rosario Murillo, has been Vice-President since 2017.

In an interview with Crux published on Tuesday, the Nicaraguan actress and human-rights campaigner Bianca Jagger said that Ortega and Murillo were waging a “violent, brutal, relentless war against the Catholic Church”.

Ms Jagger said that the regime was focusing on church figures because “they are highly respected, highly eloquent and courageous individuals, who have the courage to denounce what the government is doing and who stand together with the people of Nicaragua.”

The Church has reportedly been targeted owing to its criticisms of the validity of the election process, and its attempts to mediate between supporters of President Ortega and opponents of his regime.

Al Jazeera reports that Nicaraguans gathered for a mass in Managua, on Sunday, despite a police ban on a planned procession.

The network quoted Cardinal Brenes as saying that people came “with a lot of happiness, but also with a lot of sadness”, owing to “the situation we have lived in our parishes”.

“Forgive them, Lord, because they know not what they do,” the Cardinal said.

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