Pope Francis compared the Nicaraguan regime to the “obscene (grosera) dictatorships” of the 20th century, specifically Communism or Nazism, and denounced the state’s treatment of Catholics, in an interview with Argentine media outlet Infobae on March 10, 2023.
The relations between the Church and the Nicaraguan government have been steadily deteriorating since 2018, with an increase in tensions in the last year, including the recent imprisonment of Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa.
“With much respect, I have no choice but to think that the person who leads, [President Daniel Ortega], is unbalanced,” Pope Francis said in the interview. “Here we have a bishop in prison, a very serious, very capable man. He wanted to give witness and did not accept exile.
“[…] It is as if it were bringing the Communist dictatorship of 1917 or the Hitlerian dictatorship of 1935, bringing here these same ones… They are a type of obscene dictatorship.”
Deteriorating relations since 2018
The relations between the Church and the Nicaraguan regime became particularly strained starting in April 2018 when protests broke out over social security reforms implemented by President Ortega’s government. The authorities violently repressed the demonstrators, resulting in 355 deaths, according to a report published in June 2022.
The Church helped the protestors by sheltering them in its buildings and in May 2018 tried to act as a mediator between the regime and the opposition. Bishop Álvarez was part of a mediating team from the Episcopal Conference. However, the dialogue quickly broke down and the government has increased its attacks since.
It has closed Catholic radios and defunded Catholic universities, banned Lenten and Easter processions, exiled members of the clergy and religious communities, expelled the Apostolic Nuncio and arrested many priests.
Bishop Rolando Álvarez’s resistance
Bishop Rolando Álvarez has been a strong resistance figure to the Nicaraguan government’s oppression. After refusing to be exiled to the US with a group of political prisoners in February 2023, he was sentenced to 26 years in prison.
Authorities initially said he was held in solitary confinement in Cárcel La Modelo prison in Tipitapa, near the capital Managua. However, his whereabouts and current physical and emotional state seem to be unknown, as his family has been unable to locate him.
During the Angelus prayer on Sunday February 12, Pope Francis expressed his closeness to the Bishop. “The news from Nicaragua has saddened me a great deal, and I cannot but remember with concern Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa, whom I care about greatly, sentenced to 26 years imprisonment.”
“I pray for them and for all those who are suffering in that dear nation, and I ask for your prayers. Let us also ask the Lord, by the intercession of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, to open the hearts of political leaders and all citizens to the sincere search for peace, which is born of truth, justice, freedom and love, and which is achieved through the patient pursuit of dialogue.”
Follow the situation of Nicaragua here.