In August 2022, Nicaraguan Bishop Rolando Alvarez was arrested by police acting on orders from President Daniel Ortega.
Ortega ordered the detainment of Rolando Alvarez, 56, and placed him on home arrest due to the bishop’s open criticism of the controversial president’s authoritarian regime in Nicaragua.
Pope Francis, who was visibly silent after the detainment of the bishop, vocally expressed concern about the imprisonment of Alvarez on Sunday, February 12, 2022, after he was sentenced to more than 26 years in prison.
Pope Francis, who expressed sadness at the news of Bishop Rolando Alvarez’s sentence, appealed to government officials in Nicaragua to find a peaceful resolution following Ortega’s crackdown against the Catholic Church that led to the arrest of several priests in the country.
Ortega holds the Catholic Church responsible for the protests against his authoritarian regime in 2018 that killed 300 people in Nicaragua. He believes that the Catholic Church, an institution free from government intervention, fanned the flames of dissension against his rule and has since expelled Catholic nuns and missionaries from the country.
Rolando Alvarez was arrested and charged after he refused to board a flight to the U.S from Nicaragua last week
On Friday, February 10, 2023, Nicaraguan Bishop Rolando Alvarez was charged with treason for undermining national integrity and spreading false news, and sentenced to 26 years in prison after the bishop refused to board a flight to the United States with 222 other prisoners who were also detained for vocally criticizing President Daniel Ortega.
As per Reuters, the Pope's comments about Alvarez's arrest were included in his weekly blessing to pilgrims and tourists in St. Peter's Square on Sunday. He had said:
"The news from Nicaragua has grieved me not a little and I cannot help but remember with concern the Bishop of Matagalpa, Monsignor Rolando Alvarez, whom I love so much and who has been sentenced to 26 years in prison, and also the people who have been taken to the United States."
As per an anonymous source who spoke to the Associated Press, Alvarez refused to board a flight to the U.S. as he believed he did nothing wrong by speaking out against the government that is notorious for curbing free speech.
The Pope’s comments come a year after Ortega, who believed the church backed the protests against his government in 2018, criticized the Catholic Church, calling it a “perfect dictatorship” for not allowing members to elect the pope.
In a televised speech last year, Ortega called the priests "killers" working with the United States to overthrow his government.
Meanwhile, concerns for the Nicaraguans have increased as Ortega continues to silence his opponents while intensifying his efforts to establish an authoritarian regime.