The regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo banished twelve priests who were held as political prisoners to the Vatican, “after holding fruitful conversations with the Holy See.”
According to the communiqué issued by the dictatorship, the religious were sent to Rome on the afternoon of October 18. However, the bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando Alvarez, was not among them and continues to be imprisoned along with more than 80 prisoners of the Ortega dictatorship.
“The Government of Reconciliation and National Unity of the Republic of Nicaragua, has not exhausted resources to ensure and defend the peace that Nicaraguan families treasure so much, and this agreement reached with the intercession of high authorities of the Catholic Church in Nicaragua and the Vatican, represents the permanent will and commitment to find solutions, in recognition and encouragement of so much faith and hope that always encourages the Nicaraguan believers, who are the majority," the statement said.
The exiled priests are: Manuel Salvador García Rodríguez, José Leonardo Urbina Rodríguez, Jaime Iván Montesinos Sauceda, Fernando Israel Zamora Silva, Osman José Amador Guillén, Julio Ricardo Norori Jiménez and Cristóbal Reynaldo Gadea Velásquez. The priests Álvaro José Toledo Amador, José Iván Centeno Tercero, Pastor Eugenio Rodríguez Benavidez, Yessner Cipriano Pineda Meneses, Ramón Angulo Reyes were also banished.
They “will be welcomed in Rome, according to arrangements, by personnel of the Secretariat of State of the Holy See.”
Who are the 12 exiled priests
CONFIDENCIAL compiled a list with details of each of the priests who had been held as political prisoners in Nicaragua.
Cristóbal Gadea, priest from Jinotega
Gadea is the first imprisoned priest of the Diocese of Jinotega. He is pastor of the church Nuestra Señora de la Merced in the northern municipality of El Cuá. In 2019, he visited the Aid to the Church in Need Foundation in Spain, along with parishes in four Spanish cities to denounce the persecution against the Church in Nicaragua.
Gadea highlighted the mediating role played by several priests, himself included, in the context of the 2018 Civic Rebellion and denounced the extrajudicial executions of peasants. “The protests and repression have created an unprecedented climate of violence. I have had to mediate between some groups and others so that there would be no murders,” he noted at the time.
“Groups sympathetic to the government,” he continued, “have seen priests as opponents. We have simply mediated for peace, many times we have been called upon by them and by the population.”
Before being kidnapped, the priest received “police visits” to intimidate him, a Church source confided. Likewise, other sources indicated that the authorities of the Sandinista mayor's office of El Cuá were pressuring him in order to seize a property belonging to the Catholic Church in the municipality.
Iván Centeno and Julio Norori, priests of Estelí
Iván Centeno, parish priest of the church Inmaculada Concepción de María, in Jalapa, Nueva Segovia, has questioned the legitimacy of the Ortega regime. During a homily, in the context of the electoral farce of 2021, when Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo secured another term in power without political competition, the priest urged parishioners to respect the decision of each citizen to exercise their vote or not, according to their conscience.
He said: "Respect the decision of those who say, consciously, this is a farce, a mockery, and we are not here for that. Respect each other… This is all a well-staged circus and they want us to foolishly go," said the priest at the end of his homily.
Julio Norori, priest of the parish of San Juan del Río Coco, Madriz, completed 25 years of priestly service in May 2023 and was a teacher at the Major Seminary Madre Albertina Ramírez of the Diocese of Estelí.
Álvaro Toledo, priest of Ocotal
Priest Álvaro Toledo was kidnapped by the police hours after he spoke about the multiple arrests of priests of the Diocese of Estelí during the homily of the Blessed Sacrament. Toledo, pastor of the church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Ocotal, Nueva Segovia, was taken from the parish house.
"Our Diocese is running out of priests, we have no priests, we ask our good shepherd for abundant vocations and for them to be in their parishes", said the priest during the homily of Thursday, October 5, 2023.
Toledo commented in the homily that, days ago, there was a rumor that he too had been arrested. "The truth is that we already know that at any moment it could happen to us, but we have peace and a clear conscience," he said.
Yessner Cipriano Pineda Meneses, Ocotal priest
Priest Yessner Cipriano Pineda Meneses, parish priest of the church Nuestra Señora de Lourdes, in Ocotal, Nueva Segovia, was arrested in Estelí while participating in the festivities of the Virgin of the Rosary.
Pineda is a diocesan advisor for youth ministry in the Diocese of Estelí. It was Bishop Alvarez who, in November 2021, appointed the priest as administrator of the parish. The religious celebrated his ninth anniversary of priestly ordination on August 15, 2023.
Ramón Esteban Angulo Reyes, parish priest of Wapí
Priest Ramón Esteban Angulo Reyes, parish priest of the Nuestra Señora de Fátima church, in the locality of Wapí, municipality of El Rama, in the South Caribbean, was detained by police officers after summoning him to an alleged meeting.
According to local media, the chief of the police station in Wapí, Eddy Santo Espinoza Castro, showed up with three other officers to invite the religious man to the meeting.
So far the whereabouts of this priest, who is the first of the Diocese of Bluefields to be arrested, are unknown.
Osman Amador Guillén, sacerdote de Estelí
Priest Osman Amador Guillén, 36, is a member of the Board of Directors of Caritas Esteli. He was detained on the night of Friday, September 8, by police in the service of the Ortega regime. He was taken from the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary in Esteli and transferred to the Judicial Assistance Directorate (DAJ), known as El Chipote.
"Father Osman prayed for Monsignor Rolando, the exiled priests and the political prisoners in all of his homilies", a source from the Diocese of Estelí confided to CONFIDENCIAL.
According to witnesses, priest Osman Amador was detained by a group of anti-riot officers who burst into the Catholic church, where a meeting was being held among members of the clergy.
Lawyer Martha Patricia Molina, who has investigated the persecution of the Catholic Church in Nicaragua, said that a religious source assured that the kidnapping of the priest was possibly a reprisal because in his last homilies he prayed for the freedom of Monsignor Rolando Álvarez.
The priest used his social networks to evangelize and constantly shared the pastoral activities in which he participated with young people and parishioners.
Fernando Zamora Silva, North Caribbean priest
Priest Fernando Zamora Silva is chancellor of the Diocese of Siuna, in the Northern Caribbean. He was kidnapped on the night of Sunday, July 9, 2023. Very little is known about the priest's situation, only that he is being held in Police District III, in Managua, and that he has not received any visitors.
The priest was arrested around 8:00 p.m. in the Carretera Norte sector of Managua, after participating in an inauguration mass in the San Luis Gonzaga parish, presided over by Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, according to the newspaper La Prensa.
Eugenio Rodríguez Benavides, parish priest of Jalapa
Parish priest of the church Divina Providencia, in Jalapa, Nueva Segovia. He was "requested" by the police on May 20 and transferred to a "formation house", the Seminary of Our Lady of Fatima. For 116 days the priest has been in "seminary by jail" because he is forbidden to leave the location. The police justified his surveillance because he was being investigated for "administrative matters of the now defunct Diocesan Caritas of Esteli".
On December 27, 2022 he celebrated his 27th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. Father Rodríguez was very loved by his parishioners and remained active in the communities of the north. According to the digital media Nicaragua Investiga, Father Rodríguez mediated in processes of liberation of young people originally from La Trinidad, Estelí, who were involved in the demonstrations of 2018.
Jaime Iván Montecinos Sauceda, parish priest of Sébaco
Priest Jaime Iván Montecinos Sauceda is pastor of the church Juan Pablo II, in the municipality of Sébaco, Matagalpa. He was arrested on the night of May 23, 2023, as confirmed by the police of the Ortega regime. The arrest occurred at kilometer 104 of the Highway to Esquipulas, in the municipality of San José de los Remates, in Boaco.
Following the report of his arrest, there was no information about 61-year-old Father Montecinos for 113 days.
Through a press release issued on May 25, the Police said that the priest was being investigated "for committing acts that undermine the independence, sovereignty and self-determination of the nation, in accordance with Article 1 of Law 1055 or Law for the Defense of the People's Rights to Independence, Sovereignty and Self-Determination for Peace".
Leonardo Urbina, sentenced to 30 years in prison
On August 26, 2022, Ortega's judge Edén Enrique Aguilar Castro, of the Third Court Specialized in Violence against Women, conducted a two-day secret trial against Monsignor Leonardo Urbina. The judge found him guilty for the alleged crime of sexual abuse and minor psychological injuries to the detriment of a 14 year old minor.
The 51 year-old priest was sentenced to 30 years in prison and sent to the men's prison "La Modelo", in Tipitapa. The Ortega regime denied him the right to have a private defense attorney. Monsignor Leonardo Urbina Rodríguez was a priest of the Perpetuo Socorro parish in Boaco.
Manuel Salvador García, sentenced to two years in jail
On June 22, 2022, the single local judge of Nandaime, Jaime Aguilar, sentenced priest Manuel Salvador García Rodríguez to two years in prison. The conviction was for the alleged crime of threatening with weapons against five people. He was the first priest imprisoned and sentenced by Daniel Ortega's regime.
On May 30, the priest went out to the atrium of the Jesús de Nazareno or El Calvario church in Nandaime with a machete in his hand. He stated that he acted defensively against a group of villagers who shouted "murderer" and other insults at him.
Previously, the priest was accused of "physical violence in ideal competition with psychological violence" against Martha Candelaria Rivas Hernández, the alleged victim, whom the regime also arrested days later because she refused to sign the complaint and deny the intentional aggression.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and transalted by our staff.