Nicaragua’s dictator Daniel Ortega ordered the rupture of diplomatic relations with the Vatican, the highest institution of the Catholic Church in the world. The decision was made a few hours after an interview was published in which Pope Francis described “with great respect” that he sees Ortega as suffering “an imbalance”.
Diplomatic sources in Rome confirmed to Confidencial that the representative of the Ortega-Murillo government before the Vatican “verbally” communicated the break in relations at the Vatican Secretariat of State in Rome, alluding to the declarations of the Pope, in which for the first time he referred forcefully to the regime’s attacks against the Catholic Church. The Pope also praised the imprisoned Bishop Rolando Alvarez: “There (in Nicaragua) we have a bishop in prison, a very serious man, very capable. He wanted to give his testimony and did not accept exile.” Ortega recently ordered Alvarez sentenced for treason and he was handed a 26-year prison sentence.
In this way, Ortega and Murillo put an end to a diplomatic link of at least 115 years, since relations between Nicaragua and the Vatican were born in 1908. However, the coexistence between the Sandinistas and the Catholic Church of Nicaragua has been marked with friction and mistrust over the last 43 years.
Nicaragua now enters a small group of thirteen countries that do not maintain diplomatic relations with the Vatican, four of them have communist governments —Vietnam, North Korea, China and Laos— and eight are Muslims —Somalia, Oman, Mauritania, Maldives, Comoro Islands, Brunei, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia— the other is Bhutan, a Buddhist kingdom in South Asia.
According to the diplomatic source in Rome, “the representative of the Nunciature in Managua was given a week to leave the country.”
Monsignor Mbaye Diouf, secretary of the Nunciature, has been in charge of the Vatican diplomatic mission -as charge d’affaires- since the beginning of March last year, after the Ortega dictatorship expelled the apostolic nuncio, Monsignor Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag.
Back on March 5, 2022, The Ortega y Murillo regime verbally notified Sommertag of his expulsion from Nicaragua, and that he had ten days to leave the country. However, after consultations with the Vatican, Monsignor Sommertag left his diplomatic mission the following day at night on March 6, without saying goodbye to the Nicaraguan Episcopal Conference or the accredited diplomatic corps in the country.
“The Vatican never leaves, she gets kicked out”
With the expulsion of the nuncio in 2022, a period of hostility, persecution and harassment against the Catholic Church in Nicaragua intensified. The Government —through its repressive machinery, headed by the National Police— has closed Catholic radio stations, desecrated churches, expelled nuns from the Missionaries of Charity order, prohibited processions, imprisoned, and sentenced a bishop, and exiled and declared “stateless” eight Nicaraguan priests.
In addition, Ortega has called the Nicaraguan bishops “terrorists” and “coup plotters”. He has also accused them —without evidence— of being accomplices of internal forces and international groups that, in his opinion, “act in Nicaragua to overthrow him.”
The case Pope Francis referred to is that of Monsignor Rolando Alvarez, bishop of the Diocese of Matagalpa and apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Estelí, who is confined to a maximum-security cell in the La Modelo penitentiary system, in Managua. He was summarily found guilty and sentenced by a kangaroo court to 26+ years in prison for “treason”, after he refused to be exiled.
Alvarez refused to get on a plane that would take him, along with 222 other released Nicaraguan political prisoners, to the United States on February 9th. His refusal provoked the fury of Ortega, who labeled him “arrogant”, “insane” and “a lunatic”.
Despite the regime’s incessant attacks against the Church and priests, the Pope has constantly called for dialogue. “The Vatican never leaves. They kick her out. It always tries to preserve diplomatic relations and save what can be saved with patience and dialogue,” the pope said last December in an interview with the Spanish newspaper ABC.
Ortega’s attacks and the Pope’s interview with Infobae
The pope’s calls for dialogue did not calm or minimize the attacks of the dictatorship. The National Police, whose supreme chief is Ortega, prohibited the Catholic Church from holding the traditional processions during Lent and Easter Week this year.
During the commemoration of the 89th anniversary of the death of Augusto C. Sandino, at the end of February, Ortega described the priests, bishops and popes as “a mafia” that do not represent the principles of God or Christ.
“Who chooses the pope? How many votes does the Pope get among what is the Christian people? If we are going to talk about democracy, the people should first elect the priests of the people (…) let the people decide and not the mafia that is organized in the Vatican”, Ortega thundered.
In his recent interview with the Argentine media Infobae, Pope Francis was asked about the latest attacks and replied: “with great respect, I have no choice but to think about an imbalance in the person who leads (Daniel Ortega).”
Francis further noted that the situation in Nicaragua “is something that is outside of what we are experiencing, it is as if it were bringing back the (Russian) communist dictatorship of 1917 or the Hitlerian (Nazi) dictatorship of 1935.”
“They are a type of shameless dictatorships. Or, to use a distinction from Argentina, guarangas (uncivil)” he said.
Pope Francis, 86, will celebrate his birthday this Monday, March 13. He has headed the Catholic Church for ten years, a period in which he has focused his efforts on reforming the Vatican to make it more transparent and effective, not without the opposition of the most conservative sectors.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times