Nicaraguan Bishop Álvarez’s Silent Suffering Speaks Volumes| National Catholic Register

COMMENTARY: Bishop Rolando Álvarez refuses to abandon his spiritual sons and daughters in Nicaragua, and he is in jail because of it.

Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa, Nicaragua, has unleashed the Catholic Church’s strongest form of diplomacy: the steadfast concern of a bishop for his people, even when his very life is at stake.

Last week, news outlets announced the release of Bishop Álvarez, who had been sentenced to a prison term of 26 years based on fabricated charges of treason. Shortly afterward, however, Bishop Álvarez was reported as back in prison.

What happened?

Daniel Ortega has been waging war against the Catholic Church ever since Catholic leaders in the country attempted to mediate talks between the government and pro-democracy protesters in 2018. Talks broke down quickly, and Ortega accused the participating bishops of attempting a coup. Ortega has since kicked bishops, priests, seminarians, religious orders and even the Vatican’s top diplomat out of the country. Bishop Álvarez was a leading figure, defending the protesters at the time, and didn’t let up.

Back in February, Ortega released more than 200 political prisoners — including several Catholic priests and seminarians. They were stripped of their Nicaraguan nationality and sent on a plane as exiles to the United States. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said this “marks a constructive step towards addressing human-rights abuses in the country and opens the door to further dialogue between the United States and Nicaragua regarding issues of concern.”

Blinken didn’t anticipate that Bishop Álvarez — who was under house arrest at the time — would refuse Ortega’s order to leave. Ortega retaliated by orchestrating Bishop Álvarez‘s summary conviction on charges of treason the following day. The bishop was sentenced to more than 26 years in prison.

The reaction of the global community has been overwhelming. A joint hearing of two House Foreign Affairs subcommittees earlier this year ended with the strong bipartisan denunciation of the Ortega regime, especially its treatment of Bishop Álvarez. The head of a United Nations investigatory committee noted that “the use of the justice system against political opponents, as in Nicaragua, is exactly what the Nazi regime did.” Pope Francis, echoing the U.N., similarly likened Ortega’s government to that of Hitler’s Germany.

Ortega, who had previously expelled the Vatican’s chief diplomat, Archbishop Waldemar Sommertag, couldn’t take the Holy Father’s criticism. He retaliated by closing the Vatican embassy in Managua and the Nicaraguan embassy to the Holy See in Rome.

The Church’s importance in the Central American country and on the international scene, however, is tough to ignore. Despite Ortega’s suspension of diplomatic relations with the Vatican, his regime began negotiations this summer with the Nicaraguan Bishops’ Conference and the Vatican for Bishop Álvarez’s release from prison. But Ortega again conditioned release on the bishop’s exile. Bishop Álvarez had his own demands: He would not leave Nicaragua and wanted the five other jailed priests in Nicaragua released and the bank accounts of Catholic institutions throughout the country unfrozen.

Auxiliary Bishop Silvio José Báez of the Archdiocese of Managua, who is himself exiled and living in Miami, said that Bishop Álvarez’s refusal to become an exile “was a decision he made in conscience before God. Thus, there is nothing to negotiate.”

“I know Rolando and he would never bargain away a decision of conscience that he made,” Bishop Báez added.

The exiled bishop tweeted that Bishop Álvarez had told him previously that the only circumstance under which Bishop Álvarez would accept being exiled was if Pope Francis himself requested it.

After Bishop Álvarez first refused to leave Nicaragua, The Washington Post’s editorial board observed, “History records many instances in which religious leaders, including those of the Roman Catholic Church, have resisted the abuses of temporal authority, and have been persecuted for it.”

The Post is spot-on.

Despite enduring unjust confinement over the last months, Bishop Rolando Álvarez won’t abandon his spiritual sons and daughters in Nicaragua. Such quiet suffering in the face of persecution, a hallmark of the martyrs of the Church, speaks volumes.

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