U.S. Bishops Call For Release of Nicaraguan Bishop Álvarez
In addition to his jail sentence, Bishop Álvarez was stripped of his citizenship and fined.
Following failed negotiations with the regime of Nicaraguan dictator Daniel Ortega to free the persecuted Bishop Rolando José Álvarez Lagos, the U.S. bishops have called for the imprisoned prelate’s release.
Bishop Álvarez, who in February was sentenced to 26 years in prison after declining exile to the United States, was convicted of treason, undermining national integrity, and spreading false news.
“We received news last week of yet another breakdown in negotiations to free Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa, Nicaragua — unjustly sentenced to 26 years in prison and stripped of his citizenship in February,” Bishop David Malloy of Rockford, Illinois, said July 7 in his capacity as chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace.
“I particularly commend the recent Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ ruling mandating the immediate release of Bishop Álvarez. The consensus from the international community is clear: The continued incarceration of Bishop Álvarez is unjust and must end as soon as possible,” Bishop Malloy said.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights is an international court under the Organization of American States formed in accordance with the human rights treaty the American Convention on Human Rights.
The court said that Bishop Álvarez is in a “situation of extreme vulnerability” and called on Nicaragua to release him in addition to taking any measures to preserve his life and dignity.
In Bishop Malloy’s statement, he prayed: “May Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, patroness of Nicaragua and the United States, illumine the hearts of all decision-makers, and may her maternal mantle protect the Church in Nicaragua.”
In addition to his jail sentence, Bishop Álvarez was stripped of his citizenship and fined. His imprisonment came after his outspoken criticism of Ortega’s dictatorial policies and religious persecution.
Accused of being a “traitor to the homeland,” the bishop was sentenced on Feb. 10, one day after he refused exile to the U.S. from the country along with 222 other political prisoners, which included priests and seminarians, ACI Prensa reported.
The government has committed egregious religious freedom abuses in the country including detaining and expelling priests from the country, denying them reentry, hindering the services of Church-affiliated organizations, targeting Catholic educational institutions, and removing Catholic television and radio stations from the air.
Pope Francis has denounced the Ortega regime, which he likened to Nazi Germany.
U.S. Congressman Chris Smith, who chairs the Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations subcommittee, has been a strong critic of the Nicaraguan government and its treatment of the Catholic Church.
“Ortega is waging a war against religious freedom, and he is targeting the Catholic Church as the single most important independent institution remaining in Nicaragua,” Smith said at a hearing in March.
In both June and July, Smith requested of the Nicaraguan government a meeting with Bishop Álvarez.
“I remain very concerned about the safety and well-being of Bishop Rolando José Álvarez amid inconsistent reports of his status in Nicaragua, and I renew my request to visit him there,” he said in his July statement.
“Bishop Álvarez is a compassionate and honorable servant of God’s people who continues to so bravely and selflessly advocate for other innocent victims who are also being persecuted by the brutal Ortega regime, including his brother priests who remain imprisoned,” he added.
“I continue to call for the end of persecution of the Catholic Church by the Nicaraguan state and the immediate release of Bishop Álvarez and all other religious and political prisoners who are unjustly incarcerated,” he said.