HomeTop StoriesNicaragua proposes suspending ties with the Vatican after comments

Nicaragua proposes suspending ties with the Vatican after comments

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — The government of Nicaragua said on Sunday it has proposed suspending relations with the Vatican, days after Pope Francis reportedly likened President Daniel Ortega’s government to a Communist or Nazi dictatorship amid a crackdown. action against the Catholic Church in the Central American country.

Relations between the Church and the Nicaraguan government have deteriorated since 2018, when authorities violently suppressed anti-government protests. Some Catholic leaders sheltered demonstrators in their churches, and the church later attempted to act as a mediator between the regime and the opposition.

Ortega labeled Catholic figures he saw as sympathetic to the opposition as “terrorists” who had supported efforts to overthrow him.

Dozens of religious figures were arrested or fled the country. Two congregations of nuns — including those from the Missionaries of Charity order founded by Mother Teresa — were expelled last year, and prominent Catholic bishop Rolando Álvarez was sentenced last month to 26 years in prison after refusing to board a plane carrying him. to exile in the United States. He was also stripped of his Nicaraguan citizenship.

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Pope Francis has been largely silent on the matter, apparently not to inflame tensions, but in a March 10 interview with Argentine media outlet Infobae, he called Ortega’s government a “rude dictatorship” headed by an “unbalanced” president.

In Nicaragua, “we have a bishop in prison, a very serious and capable man, who wanted to give his testimony and did not accept exile,” said Francis, referring to Álvarez. “It’s something from outside what we live now, as if it were a communist dictatorship in 1917 or a Hitlerian dictatorship in 1935.”

Amid rumors that the government of Nicaragua had cut ties with the Vatican following the comments, the State Department issued a statement on Sunday saying: “A suspension of relations between the Republic of Nicaragua and the Vatican State has been proposed. “

Vatican sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because there was no official announcement, said on Sunday night there had been a request from Nicaragua to close both sides’ diplomatic missions.

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A human rights group, Nicaragua Nunca Más, estimates that more than 50 religious leaders have fled since 2018, when a social security reform sparked mass protests. Other church personnel — including priests, seminarians and lay personnel — were among the 222 Nicaraguans released from detention on Feb. 9 and forcibly deported to the United States.

Nicaragua Nunca Más and CSW, a UK-based organization that advocates for religious freedom around the world, have collected testimonies from dozens of people who described harassment, threats, physical violence and arbitrary detention targeting a range of religious workers. There are multiple accounts of masked men breaking into churches, theft or destruction of religious objects, and the ban on religious processions.

A year ago, the Nicaraguan government expelled Apostolic Nuncio Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag, who had advocated the release of hundreds of imprisoned opponents in 2018 and 2019. The Holy See at the time expressed its “surprise and pain” at the measure.

Last August, Nicaraguan police imposed a siege of more than two weeks around the Episcopal Curia of Matagalpa, capturing Bishop Álvarez along with three priests and four other people, who were later arrested and convicted of “conspiracy.”

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When the government deported 222 “political prisoners,” Álvarez refused to board the plane and was sent to Modelo Prison, where thousands of common criminals are held.

The crackdown on the 2018 protests by police and government-affiliated paramilitaries left 355 dead, more than 2,000 injured and 1,600 arrested, according to human rights groups. ____

Frances D’Emilio reported from Rome.

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