Vatican closes embassy in Nicaragua after Ortega crackdown
VATICAN CITY — The Vatican said on Saturday it had closed its embassy in Nicaragua after the country’s government proposed suspending diplomatic ties, the latest installment in a year-long crackdown on the Catholic Church by the administration. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.
The Vatican representative in Managua, Monsignor Marcel Diouf, also left the country on Friday, bound for Costa Rica, a Vatican official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The Vatican’s action came a week after the Nicaraguan government proposed suspending relations with the Holy See, and a year after Nicaragua forced the then papal ambassador out. It is unclear what more the proposed suspension would entail in diplomatic terms.
Relations between the church and Ortega’s government have deteriorated since 2018, when Nicaraguan authorities violently suppressed anti-government protests.
Some Catholic leaders harbored protesters in their churches, and the church then tried to act as a mediator between the government and the political opposition.
Ortega called Catholic figures he considered sympathetic to the opposition “terrorists” who had supported efforts to overthrow him. Dozens of religious figures have been arrested or fled the country.
Two congregations of nuns, including those of the Order of Missionaries of Charity founded by Mother Teresa, were expelled from Nicaragua last year.
Prominent Catholic Bishop Rolando Álvarez was sentenced to 26 years in prison last month after refusing to board a plane that carried 222 exiled dissidents and priests to the United States. He was also stripped of his Nicaraguan nationality.
Pope Francis had remained largely silent on the issue, apparently unwilling to stir up tensions. But in a March 10 interview with Argentine news outlet Infobae, after Alvarez’s conviction, he called Ortega’s government a “crass dictatorship” comparable to Hitler’s led by an “unbalanced” president.
According to Vatican News, custody of the Vatican embassy, or nunciature, has been entrusted to the Italian government, according to diplomatic conventions. The report said diplomats from the European Union, Germany, France and Italy greeted Diouf, the charge d’affaires, before closing the diplomatic post and leaving.
During the farewell ceremony, Germany’s Ambassador to Nicaragua, Christoph Bundscherer, regretted the embassy’s closure and asked Diouf to share a message with Pope Francis, according to a statement posted on the Facebook page. from the German Embassy.
“Together with the Catholic Church, the representatives of the European Union in Nicaragua will also always uphold the Christian values of freedom, tolerance and human dignity,” Bundscherer said, according to the statement.
The Nicaraguan government, which since September 2018 has banned all opposition demonstrations in the country, has also restricted Catholic activities inside churches, including banning the traditional street processions that thousands of Nicaraguans had the used to celebrate around Holy Week and Easter.
The restrictions forced church authorities to hold the Stations of the Cross procession on the grounds of the Metropolitan Cathedral of Managua, as they did on Friday.
Selser reported from Mexico.