Vatican City – Pope Francis said on Sunday he was “concerned” by rising tensions between the state and the Catholic church in Nicaragua, two days after bishop and regime critic Rolando Alvarez was detained.
Francis said he was following “closely with concern and sorrow” the situation in Nicaragua, amid a worsening standoff between the Church and a government accused of increasing authoritarianism.
“I would like to express my conviction and hope that through open and sincere dialogue, the basis for respectful and peaceful coexistence can still be found,” the head of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics said after the Angelus prayer.
A spokeswoman for the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the EU was “following closely the situation with concern”.
She repeated Brussel’s position that “Nicaraguans have to find a peaceful and democratic solution to their political crisis through dialogue”.
The Catholic Church in Nicaragua has been under increasing government pressure since opposition protests in 2018 were met with a crackdown that left hundreds dead.
President Daniel Ortega maintains the protests were part of a Washington-backed opposition plot to unseat him, and accuses bishops of complicity.
The Vatican has said Nicaragua expelled its ambassador to the country in March.
Taken ‘with violence’
Alvarez was detained Friday for “destabilizing and provocative” activities aimed at destabilizing the Central American country.
His detention followed two weeks under police siege at his official residence in Matagalpa, central Nicaragua, after he criticized the closure of Church radio stations and news channels.
Supporters said Alvarez was taken “with violence” to an unknown location, prompting the United Nations and Organisation of American States (OAS) to express concern.
Eight others, including five priests, who had been holed up with Alvarez were taken to Managua with him, according to the Latin American Bishops Conference (CELAM), and were all under investigation.
Later, the church said Alvarez was being held at his “family home” where Cardinal Lepoldo Brenes was allowed to visit him.
Brenes reported the bishop’s “physical condition has deteriorated” but his “spirit is strong”, the archdiocese of Managua said in a statement.
The other eight were being held at El Chipote prison, according to the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (Cenidh). El Chipote is a notorious lockup for government critics.
Last week, the Cenidh said another Nicaraguan priest, Oscar Benavidez, had been “removed from his vehicle and taken by patrol car to an unknown destination”.
According to the European Union, Nicaragua has more than 180 “political prisoners”.
In the first half of 2022, the bloc says, Nicaraguan authorities closed down over 1,200 civil society organizations.
Earlier this month, Borrell’s office called for the liberation of Nicaragua’s political prisoners, denouncing the government crackdown on opposition activists.
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