ROME – After the news became public that the government of Nicaragua unlawfully imprisoned Bishop Rolando Alvarez in the early hours of Aug. 19, the Vatican has continued to keep silent on the situation.
Despite the request from several journalists, the Holy See’s press office did not issue a statement on the arrest of Matagalpa’s bishop.
Alvarez, known for being a critic of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, was first prevented from leaving his diocesan offices in early August, when several police patrol cars surrounded the building. Early on Friday, at least eight patrol cars were deployed to remove the bishop to Nicaragua’s capital, where he was placed under arrest in his family home. Those who had been with him were taken to the infamous detention center El Chipote, where some 190 political prisoners are being held. Several of those who have survived this place describe it as a torture center.
The only Vatican official who has spoken about the imprisonment of the bishop is Mexican layman Rodrigo Guerra, who heads the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. Speaking with Aleteia, he said that Pope Francis “is well aware of all the events taking place in Nicaragua.”
According to Aleteia, Guerra is part of the group of individuals, which includes the archbishop of Managua, Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, that is seeking to find a way to free Alvarez.
Guerra told the online new site that he is “attentive to the prayerful silence of the pope, which is never an apathetic silence, but is the silence of a pastor who watches over his people before ideological positions.”
“A papal silence does not mean inactivity or lack of decision, no, nothing like that; it means that they are working on other planes,” he said. “And at the moment when the Holy Father sees it prudent, of course, he will have an intervention.”
The last time Pope Francis spoke in public about Nicaragua was in 2019. No high-ranking Vatican diplomat has mentioned this country in the past few months, not even after Alvarez was prevented from leaving the diocesan curial offices.
Yet despite the Vatican’s silence, bishops from around the world have come out in support of the prelate, including Brenes, whom Nicaraguan authorities allowed to visit Alvarez.
A statement from the Archdiocese of Managua says that the cardinal found the bishop “physically deteriorated,” but strong “in faith and spirit.”
“Aware that prayer is the strength of the Christian, we invite you to continue imploring Christ to intercede and watch over his little flock,” says the statement. “We hope that reason, as well as respectful understanding, will open the way to the solution of this critical and complex situation for all.”
Managua’s statement came soon after Nicaragua’s police claimed that Alvarez was placed under house arrest following attempts to hold a dialogue with the bishop. Police said they were calling on him to cease his “destabilizing and provocative” actions.
The police pointed out that Brenes had met with Alvarez and that the two had “spoken at length.”
The cardinal is expected to fly to Rome soon, where he will attend the Aug. 27 consistory for the creation of new cardinals, as well as a series of meetings the following week.
Sources have told Crux that the government of Nicaragua wants Alvarez out of the country or in jail. However, the bishop doesn’t want to leave the country. In 2019, Francis ordered Bishop Silvio Baez, the auxiliary of Managua, to flee to Miami after he and members of his family began receiving death threats.
Baez went to Twitter to express his support for Alvarez: “I condemn the vile and cowardly persecution of the Catholic Church by the Nicaraguan dictatorship. The Church of the whole world must turn its eyes towards my country. We need the prayer, closeness, and denunciation of the whole Church. I beg you from my heart: Do not abandon us!”
Among those who spoke out in favor of Alvarez was Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, head of the United States’ bishops’ conference’s committee of international justice and peace, who released a statement expressing “our continued steadfast solidarity with our brothers in the Nicaraguan episcopate, along with their priests and foreign missionaries, in their calling to freely proclaim the Gospel and live the faith.”
“The faith of the Nicaraguan people, who stand in solidarity with their bishops and priests, is an inspiration for us all,” Broglio said.
Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, is “very concerned for the grave closure of the civil and democratic space in Nicaragua, and recent actions against civil society, including the Catholic Church,” according to the UN spokesperson.