Pope Francis Calls for ‘Peaceful Coexistence’ in Nicaragua

The Holy Father spoke out at the end of his weekly Angelus message.

Bishop José Álvarez Lagos is shown surrounded by police officers on Aug. 4.
Bishop José Álvarez Lagos is shown surrounded by police officers on Aug. 4. (photo: Courtesy photo / Diocese Media TV Merced / Diocese of Matagalpa)

Pope Francis called for “peaceful coexistence” between people and institutions in Nicaragua Sunday at the end of his weekly Angelus message.

Pope Francis’ comments followed the abduction Friday of Bishop Rolando Álvarez by Nicaraguan police.

Police forced their way into the bishop’s residence, where he had been under house arrest for two weeks, during the early hours of Aug. 19. Bishop Álvarez is an outspoken critic of the regime of President Daniel Ortega.

As of Aug. 19, Bishop Álvarez was being held under house arrest in a residence of his relatives. Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, archbishop of Managua, was able to visit the arrested bishop on Friday.

Bishop Álvarez is the bishop of the Diocese of Matagalpa in north-central Nicaragua. Along with eight others — priests, seminarians, and laymen — the bishop had been forcibly confined to the chancery since Aug. 4 and prohibited from receiving food or medicine.

The priests and seminarians were also removed from the chancery Friday and, according to police, are being held “in the Directorate of Judicial Assistance,” in a prison known as “El Chipote,” infamous for torture carried out on opponents of the Ortega dictatorship. 

Since 2018, under the Ortega dictatorship, there have been more than 190 attacks against the Catholic Church, its bishops, priests, faithful and houses of worship, according to a report compiled by attorney Martha Patricia Molina Montenegro, a member of the Pro-Transparency and Anti-Corruption Observatory.

Ortega has repeatedly insulted Catholic bishops and priests, calling them “demons in cassocks,” “terrorists” and “coup plotters.”

In March of this year, the dictatorship expelled the apostolic nuncio in Nicaragua, Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag. The decision was received with “surprise and pain” by the Vatican.

At the beginning of July, the Missionaries of Charity, founded by St. Teresa of Calcutta, and dedicated to caring for the poorest and sickest, were removed from the country.

The regime has also forcibly closed Catholic television and radio stations in the country.

In recent weeks, using the police, the Ortega dictatorship has harassed priests in Nicaragua, especially in the Dioceses of Matagalpa and Siuna, where Father Oscar Benavidez was arrested Aug. 13 for no known reason.

Nicaraguan police place Bishop Rolando José Álvarez under house arrest Aug. 4 at the diocesan chancery in Matagalpa, Nicaragua.

Nicaragua Needs More

EDITORIAL: Although the Vatican has offered a muted response, Pope Francis must do more to condemn human-rights abuses in Nicaragua before the Ortega regime exploits papal silence to justify its immoral actions.