Skip to main content

Human Rights

Ortega regime releases 12 priests imprisoned as part of Catholic crackdown after talks with Vatican

Daniel Ortega’s regime in  communist Nicaragua has freed 12 Roman Catholic priests who were imprisoned on several charges and sent them to Rome

El dictador de Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega y en fondo una iglesia
El dictador de Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega y en fondo una iglesia | Fotomontaje: ADN América / EFE

October 23, 2023 9:14am

Updated: October 23, 2023 9:18am

Daniel Ortega’s communist Nicaraguan regime has freed 12 Roman Catholic priests who were imprisoned on several charges and sent them to Rome. Their release and repatriation to Italy comes as part of a deal that was negotiated with the Vatican, according to a recent statement released by the regime.

The Ortega regime verified that the priests were transferred to Rome Wednesday afternoon after ongoing discussions with the Vatican.

The renewed talks with the Vatican come amid months of tension that erupted after Pope Francis finally broke his silence and reacted to years of the regime’s persecution of Catholic clergy members.

Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, the Catholic Church’s highest ranking figure in Nicaragua, did not immediately respond media requests for comment, but on Thursday, the Vatican confirmed that the Holy See had been asked to receive the 12 priests who had been recently released.

“I can confirm that the Holy See has been asked to receive 12 priests from Nicaragua who were recently released from prison. The Holy See has accepted,” reads an Oct. 19 online statement published by Vatican News.

Holy See Press Office Director Matteo Bruni added that the priests were being welcomed by Italian government officials later that day.

“They will be welcomed by an official of the Secretariat of State in the afternoon and lodged in several facilities of the Diocese of Rome,” Bruni said.

The statement added that the priests were being “housed in various structures belonging to the diocese of Rome.”

The Ortega regime said the deal showed “the permanent will and commitment to find solutions” after months of crackdowns, many of which have led to the exile and imprisonment of priests and clergy members including bishops.

Bishop Rolando Álvarez, whose arrest became world famous after his residence was surrounded by Ortega agents for two weeks was not one of the priests who left. Álvarez was charged and convicted of conspiracy and sentenced in February to 26 years in prison.

His sentence came after the Ortega regime sent 222 prisoners to the Washington, D.C. as part of a negotiation with the U.S. government.

Wanting to continue fighting for the defenseless in his native homeland, Álvarez refused to leave with the others.

The Ortega regime soon stripped those 222 prisoners of their citizenship, making it effectively impossible for them to return in any long term capacity. The tactic of imposing exile and stripping the citizenship of dissidents and democracy activists has become more frequent by communist dictatorships including Cuba.

The Ortega regime began its crackdowns in the wake of the nationwide April 2018 protests that the communist dictator later labeled an attempted coup. During those demonstrations, the regime killed dozens of civilians and injured 160 with gunfire.

Catholic churches gave shelter to protestors and were later treated by Ortega and his agents as if they had aided and abetted subversives even though the protestors were unarmed.

Since Ortega has returned to power Nicaraguan emigration to the U.S. has dramatically increased.

“Nicaraguans are the 13th-largest population of Hispanic origin living in the United States, accounting for about 1% of the U.S. Hispanic population in 2021,” according to the Pew Research Center.

“From 2000 to 2021, the Nicaraguan-origin population increased 123%, growing from 200,000 to 450,000. At the same time, the Nicaraguan foreign-born population living in the U.S. grew by 50%, up from 160,000 in 2000 to 230,000 in 2021.”