As Catholics welcome Nicaraguan exiles, leading U.S. bishop calls for restoration of human rights

Bishop Rolando Álvarez Bishop Rolando Álvarez of the Diocese of Matagalpa, Nicaragua. | Credit: Diocese of Matagalpa

Catholic organizations in the U.S. have quickly mobilized to welcome political exiles from Nicaragua, but more must be done to address human rights violations in the country, Archbishop Timothy Broglio, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), said Tuesday.

“I am proud and grateful that the Catholic community of the United States — from dioceses and local Catholic Charities agencies to Catholic Charities USA and the USCCB — was among those that mobilized quickly to welcome the Nicaraguan exiles as they were stripped of their citizenship before boarding the plane,” he said Feb. 21. “These 222 individuals were welcomed on U.S. soil on Feb. 9 and are being assisted by U.S. government authorities and partners.”

“How can any regime deny citizenship to its citizens?” Broglio asked.

The Ortega dictatorship deported 222 political prisoners to the United States on Feb. 9.

The 56-year-old Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Maltagalpa refused to board the plane with the deportees and decided to stay in Nicaragua.

Álvarez has been “languishing in regime detention since August” and was “fallaciously charged with ‘undermining national integrity and the propagation of false news,’” Broglio said. The Nicaraguan bishop was sentenced to 26 years in prison, stripped of his citizenship, and ordered to pay what Broglio said was an “exorbitant” fine.

“His sentencing marks yet another escalated human rights violation in the ongoing ordeal the Catholic Church faces in Nicaragua,” Broglio said.

In the last five years, Nicaragua’s government under President Daniel Ortega has increasingly targeted the Catholic Church. Church leaders acted as mediators with foes of Ortega after massive 2018 protests, and Ortega has accused Catholic leaders of trying to overthrow him.

Last year the Ortega government targeted clergy, eliminated Church-affiliated organizations, and put restrictions on religious observances. His government has also taken action to repress Catholic radio and television stations. It has driven Catholic religious orders, including the Missionaries of Charity, from the country.

Broglio said the Nicaraguan regime and its allies have been “implementing a policy of severe aggression against the Catholic Church in Nicaragua.” This includes “calculated profanations of the Blessed Sacrament as a means of terrorizing the Nicaraguan faithful.”

“Yet, at this dark hour, courageous hope, charity, and solidarity are bearing witness to the enduring vitality of the faith of the people of Nicaragua and among Catholics worldwide supporting the Nicaraguan faithful,” the archbishop said.

He joined Pope Francis’ exhortation to Nicaraguan leaders. In August 2022 the pope voiced his conviction that “through an open and sincere dialogue, the basis for a respectful and peaceful coexistence might still be found.”

“I also call on the U.S. government and other partners to continue to pursue the release of Bishop Álvarez and the restoration of human rights in Nicaragua,” Broglio said.

On Feb. 12 Pope Francis voiced his prayers for Álvarez, the 222 exiled political prisoners, and “for all those who are suffering.”

Last week Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami said his archdiocese has offered hospitality, education, and other opportunities to the exiled priests and seminarians.

In 2019 Pope Francis ordered a former auxiliary bishop of Managua, Silvio José Báez, to leave Nicaragua when it became known that Ortega’s government had very likely ordered Báez’s assassination. The bishop is now living in exile in Miami.

Ortega, who leads Nicaragua’s socialist Sandinista National Liberation Front party, has governed Nicaragua continuously since 2007 along with his wife, Rosario Murillo, who is now the vice president. The regime has variously been accused of corruption, voter fraud, imprisoning critical dissenters and journalists, and committing violent human rights abuses against the people of Nicaragua.

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