The Nicaraguan Catholic bishop and 18 other priests released by the Nicaraguan government arrived in Rome last week after reaching a deal with the Vatican, the Associated Press reported.
Bishop Rolando Alvarez and the other Catholic clergy were imprisoned more than a year ago as part of a crackdown by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega who had accused the clerics of supporting the massive civic protests in 2018 that sought to oust him from power.
In a January 14 press release, the Nicaraguan government said the clergy’s release was part of its negotiations with the Vatican to make it possible for the priests to travel to Rome.
The Vatican’s press operation Vatican News reported that the group arrived at the Vatican on the afternoon of January 14 as “guests of the Holy See.”
Last February, the Ortega government sent 222 prisoners to the United States as part of a deal brokered by the Biden administration. The released prisoners were later stripped of their Nicaraguan citizenship.
One of Nicaragua’s most outspoken Catholic priests, Bishop Rolando Alvarez was convicted of conspiracy and sentenced to 26 years in prison. He had remained in prison for over a year before his release. In the mass release last February, Alvarez refused to board the flight to the United States without first being able to consult with the other bishops.
In October, the Nicaraguan government released a dozen priests imprisoned on various charges following negotiations with the Vatican. The priests were quickly flown to Rome.
Since his crackdown on the 2018 popular uprisings that called for his ouster, President Ortega’s government has been silencing opposition voices, with particular emphasis on the Catholic church.
In August, the government seized the prestigious University of Central America, a Jesuit-run college founded in 1960.
The country’s legislature, which is dominated by members of Ortega’s Sandinista National Liberation Front, has ordered more than 3,000 non-government organizations to close, including Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity.