Nicaraguan police place Catholic bishop, priests under house arrest

Bishop Rolando Álvarez Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa, Nicaragua, walks with other pilgrims to the Shrine of the Divine Child in July 2022. | Credit: Manuel Obando and Diocese Media

The regime of President Daniel Ortega has ordered police in Nicaragua to launch an investigation into the Catholic bishop of Matagalpa, who they have detained for allegedly trying to "organize violent groups" to destabilize the government.

Bishop Rolando José Álvarez, who was placed under house arrest and threatened with prison, has been openly critical of the abuses and human rights violations being committed by the Sandinista regime.

In a press release published Aug. 5, the Nicaraguan national police accused high-ranking leaders of the Catholic Church in Matagalpa, and Álvarez in particular, of “using the communications media and social media” to try to “organize violent groups, inciting them to carry out acts of hatred against the population, creating an atmosphere of anxiety and disorder, disturbing the peace and harmony of the community.”

Such actions have the "purpose of destabilizing the State of Nicaragua and attacking the constitutional authorities," the press release continues.

The Ortega regime’s police force announced they have already started an investigation “in order to determine the criminal responsibility of the people involved.”

The statement adds that "the people under investigation shall remain in their homes."

Álvarez along with six priests and six lay people have been surrounded by dozens of riot police since Aug. 3. They have been prevented from leaving the chancery in Matagalpa since Aug. 5 when they attempted to leave to celebrate Mass.

The Ortega regime also ordered the closure of eight Catholic radio stations in the diocese beginning Aug. 1 on the grounds they haven’t had a valid operating license since 2003. However, the diocese said the bishop personally presented the proper documentation to the government regulatory agency in 2016 but never got a response.

The bishops of the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopal Council (CELAM), bishops’ conferences around the world, the U.S. State Department, and the European Union have deplored these acts of persecution.

In a video posted on social media, Álvarez said during a recent homily that he doesn’t know what he is being investigated for, but that the police must "be making their own conjectures."

“Here we are gathered together and being held. We maintain our inner strength, peace in our hearts, and the joy that the Risen One gives us, the joy of the one who tells us ‘courage, it is I, do not be afraid’,” the prelate said.

He also asked the faithful not to be afraid and to keep hope alive in Christ.

“Remember dearly beloved brothers, fear paralyzes, despair entombs itself and hatred is the death of the heart. Hatred is answered with love, despair with living hope, and fear with the strength and courage that the glorious and risen Christ, the Christ of the Church, gives us,” Álvarez continued.

Finally, he said that "we entrust to the Most Holy Virgin the six priests and the six lay faithful who with us are being held in our Matagalpa chancery. "We want with our poor and limited strength to carry this cross, to renounce ourselves," said.

Ortega, who has been in power for 15 years, has been openly hostile to the Catholic Church in the country. He alleged bishops were part of an attempted coup to drive him out of office in 2018 because they supported anti-government demonstrations that his regime brutally suppressed. The Nicaraguan president has called the bishops “terrorists” and “devils in cassocks.”

According to a report titled “Nicaragua: A Persecuted Church? (2018–2022),” compiled by attorney Martha Patricia Molina Montenegro, a member of the Pro-Transparency and Anti-Corruption Observatory, in less than four years the Catholic Church in Nicaragua has been the target of 190 attacks and desecrations, including a fire in the Managua Cathedral as well as police harassment and persecution of bishops and priests.

On Aug. 6, unidentified vandals stole the main switch to the cathedral’s electrical control system, leaving the cathedral and surrounding grounds without power.

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This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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