NEW YORK – A week after reports came and went that Nicaraguan Bishop Rolando Álvarez was freed from prison, the U.S. Bishops’ Conference has confirmed that the 56-year-old prelate remains incarcerated after a breakdown in negotiations to secure his freedom.
Reuters reported last week that Álvarez had been released from prison as a result of negotiations between the Nicaraguan government and the nation’s Catholic bishops. Álvarez had begun serving a 26-year prison sentence – widely condemned as unjust by the church, the U.S. and the international community – in February.
“We received news last week of yet another breakdown in negotiations to free Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa, Nicaragua – unjustly sentenced to twenty-six years in prison and stripped of his citizenship in February,” Bishop David Malloy of Rockford, chair of USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, said in a July 12 statement.
On Feb. 10, Álvarez was sentenced to 26 years in prison by the Nicaraguan government. In addition to his imprisonment and loss of his citizenship, he was given a large fine on charges of treason, undermining national integrity and spreading false news.
The imprisonment is one of many actions Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has taken in recent years to silence the Catholic Church, including the arrests of several priests, the expulsion of nuns and missionaries, the shut down of Catholic radio stations and universities, and more.
As the reports surfaced last week of the negotiations for Álvarez’s release, Auxiliary Bishop Silvio José Báez of Managua, Nicaragua, posted a statement where he recalled a conversation he and Álvarez last August, in which Álvarez told him “that he would not leave Nicaragua for any reason unless the Pope ordered him to do so.”
“[Álvarez] added that it was a decision he made in conscience before God. Thus, there is nothing to negotiate,” Báez said in the July 5 statement. “I know Rolando, and he would never bargain away a decision of conscience that he made, which I fully understand.”
Báez, who has been in exile since 2019, added that he supports Álvarez’s decision.
“As an innocent citizen, he has the right to be in his country,” Báez said. “Besides, a bishop who is a shepherd does not go far from his people simply because a dictatorship imposes it on him.”
In the July 12 statement, Malloy urged the United States and the international community to continue praying for Álvarez and advocating for his release. He commended a recent Interamerican Court of Human Rights’ ruling mandating his immediate release.
“The consensus from the international community is clear: The continued incarceration of Bishop Álvarez is unjust and must end as soon as possible,” Malloy said. “May Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, patroness of Nicaragua and the United States illumine the hearts of all decision makers, and may her maternal mantle protect the Church in Nicaragua.”
A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State previously told Crux that it “condemns this action by the Government of Nicaragua and urges Bishop Álvarez’s immediate release.”
“We will continue to promote accountability for the Oretga-Murillo regime, reiterate our call for the immediate and unconditional release of Monsignor Álvarez, and urge the restoration of civic space for the people of Nicaragua,” the spokesperson said.
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