The Vatican closes its embassy in Nicaragua after Ortega’s speech
VATICAN CITY — The Vatican announced on Saturday that it had closed its embassy in Nicaragua after the country’s government proposed suspending diplomatic relations, the latest episode in a years-long crackdown on the Catholic Church by the government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.
The Vatican’s representative in Managua, Monsignor Marcel Diouf, also left the country on Friday for Costa Rica, a Vatican official said on condition of anonymity.
The Vatican action comes a week after the Nicaraguan government proposed to cut ties with the Holy See and a year after Nicaragua forced the then papal ambassador to leave. It is not clear what else the proposed suspension means 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 sheltered the protesters in their churches, and the church later tried to mediate between the government and the political opposition.
Ortega called Catholics sympathetic to the opposition “terrorists” who supported efforts to overthrow him. Dozens of religious figures were arrested or fled the country.
Two congregations of nuns, including the Missionaries of Charity order 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 carrying 222 dissidents and priests to exile in the United States. He was also stripped of his Nicaraguan citizenship.
Pope Francis remained largely silent on the issue, apparently not wanting to stir up tension. But in a March 10 interview with Argentinian media outlet Infobae after Alvarez’s ruling, Ortega called Ortega’s government a “brutal dictatorship” similar to Hitler’s, led by an “unbalanced” president.
According to Vatican News, the care of the Vatican embassy or nunciature has been entrusted to the Italian government in accordance with diplomatic conventions. According to the report, diplomats from the European Union, Germany, France and Italy gave a farewell to Chargé d’Affaires Diouf before he closed the diplomatic post and left.
During the farewell ceremony, Christoph Bundscherer, Germany’s ambassador to Nicaragua, expressed his regret for the closing of the embassy and asked Diouf to share his message with Pope Francis, according to a statement published on the German embassy’s Facebook page.
“Together with the Catholic Church, the representatives of the European Union in Nicaragua will always defend the Christian values of freedom, tolerance and human dignity,” Bundscherer said, according to the statement.
The Nicaraguan government, which has banned all opposition demonstrations in the country since September 2018, has also restricted Catholic activities inside churches, including banning traditional street processions that thousands of Nicaraguans used to celebrate before Holy Week and Easter.
The restrictions forced church authorities to hold the Stations of the Cross procession outside Managua’s Metropolitan Cathedral, as it did on Friday.
Selser reported from Mexico City.