Nicaragua: The Holy See Plays at Appeasement

Source: FSSPX News

Nicaraguan and Vatican flags

In order to loosen the vise in which the Church in Nicaragua finds itself prisoner due to the opposition of part of the clergy to the ruling powers, papal diplomacy has chosen to move forward with caution, and is counting on the leverage of future episcopal appointments, given that more than half of the episcopal seats are up for grabs in the country, notes The Pillar.

On March 17, 2023, the interim nuncio left the country and closed the nunciature “at the request of the Nicaraguan government” according to Vatican News. The newspaper La Croix explains: “Sandinista President Daniel Ortega did not appreciate the statements of Francis who, in an interview with the Argentine news site Infobae, on March 10, 2023, described Nicaragua as a ‘gross dictatorship,’” believing that the head of state suffers from an “imbalance.’”

The Secretariat of State quickly took control of the explosive situation in order to ease tensions which can only harm the situation of the Church in Nicaragua, whose freedoms have particularly suffered in recent years, partly due to the involvement of members of the clergy in the opposition to the power in place – who considers the clergy's position in favor of the demonstrators in April 2018 had gone too far.

A Hushed Mechanics

The oldest diplomacy in the world intends to avoid a deterioration of the situation. But silence and time are two trump cards that the Holy See still has in its game. Silence first of all: for a year, the Vatican has been silent. “The order was given by the Secretariat of State not to say anything on the subject,” explained La Croix last March.

On January 14, after a year and a half of detention, Rolando Alvarez, Bishop of Matagalpa and opposition figure to Daniel Ortega’s regime, was released and expelled to the Vatican, followed by another bishop, fifteen priests and two seminarians, all discreetly scattered throughout Italy with instructions to refrain from any public declaration on the situation in their country, summarizes La Croix. A silence which seems to have reduced the tension between the Church and Daniel Ortega.

In this thorny issue, time is also the ally of Vatican diplomacy. “Of the nine dioceses” of this country of nearly seven million inhabitants, “at least five” require episcopal appointments in the future, notes The Pillar. 

Thus, the dioceses of Managua and Jinotega are both headed by metropolitans who have reached the age limit of seventy-five years provided for by Church law: respectively, Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes and Msgr. Carlos Herrera, president of the Nicaraguan Bishops' Conference. Three other dioceses (Matagalpa, Esteli, Siuna) saw their bishops exiled for political reasons.

In Esteli, the Secretariat of State has appointed Fr. Fruttos Valle Salmeron to the post of apostolic administrator – while awaiting the name of the future residential bishop. According to The Pillar, the latter “was criticized for apparently removing several priests critical of the Ortega regime from the diocesan curia” and important parishes. 

From now on it is Daniel Ortega who is in the position of petitioner if he wants to obtain bishops from Rome who are more conciliatory towards him, knowing that in Nicaragua, there is no concordat regulating the question of episcopal appointments: the sovereign pontiff is in theory free to make his choices and the power in place must make some concession with him.

The opportunity for the Holy See to restore the balance of power and to find a middle way allowing both to loosen the vise in which the local Church has been caught, without provoking a regime which currently seems little weakened by the opposition from certain ecclesiastics.