Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa, a prominent critic of the Nicaraguan government, has been released from prison after 500 days and expelled from the country along with 18 other jailed churchmen.
Bishop Rolando Álvarez was controlled by the police and prevented from saying mass in August 2022. Diocese of Matagalpa
A prominent Catholic bishop and 18 other members of the clergy who were imprisoned in a crackdown by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega have arrived in Rome, after being expelled from the country on January 14.
Bishop Rolando Álvarez and many of the other churchmen had been in jail for more than a year. They were accused of supporting mass civic protests in 2018 that the increasingly hardline president saw as an attempt to overthrow him. Others of those expelled had been detained in a wave of arrests at Christmas.
In Nicaragua, the expulsion of priests, or refusal to allow them reentry to the country after travel abroad, has become a common tactic to deal with those seen as opponents.
Bishop Álvarez, considered one of the most outspoken critics of the Ortega regime, had spent 500 days behind bars. A court convicted him of conspiracy and, in February 2023, he was sentenced to 26 years in jail. His sentencing came a day after he refused to be part of a group of political prisoners released to the United States.
Álvarez had raised his voice against the increasing intolerance of the Sandinista regime, which has silenced the press and attempted to control the Catholic Church. The authorities have shut down more than 3,000 non-governmental organizations since December 2018.
On August 4, 2022, police prevented the bishop of the Matagalpa diocese from performing mass after he criticized the government’s closure of several Catholic radio stations and its human rights record. Later that month they placed him under house arrest.
In a press statement, the government said the releases were part of negotiations with Rome aimed at “making possible their trip to the Vatican.” The statement continued, “They have been received by Vatican authorities, in compliance with agreements of good faith and good will, which seek to promote understanding and improve communication between the Holy See and Nicaragua, for peace and good.”
In addition to Bishop Álvarez, the 19 include Bishop Isidoro Mora of Siuna, 15 priests and two seminarians.
The Vatican confirmed that all the released priests, apart from one who had gone to Venezuela, had arrived in Rome as guests of the Holy See. Pictures on X, formerly Twitter, showed the two bishops concelebrating mass in Rome.
Auxiliary Bishop Silvio José Báez of Managua – who left Nicaragua in 2019 – wrote on X, “With great joy, I thank God that my brother bishops, priests, and seminarians are out of prison. Justice has triumphed. The power of the prayer of God’s people has been displayed.”