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Nicaragua sends Catholic priests to Rome after talks with Vatican

by Reuters Journalist

Nicaragua sent a dozen Catholic priests who had been "processed" by judicial authorities to Rome on Wednesday, the government said, the latest action, a critic said, in a government crackdown on the church.

President Daniel Ortega has at times accused Catholic church leaders of seeking to overthrow his government, while judicial authorities have arrested priests and accused some of committing treason, among other crimes.

In a two-page statement, the government said the 12 had been sent to Rome after officials held "fruitful conversations" with Catholic leadership, including both local church leaders as well as unidentified Vatican officials.

The government did not explicitly say why the 12 were being sent to Italy but said the decision would help "secure and defend peace."

Nicaragua's Catholic bishops conference did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

An exiled Nicaraguan researcher who publishes records of what she describes as the persecution of the Catholic Church under Ortega said sending the priests to Rome was a "forced removal."

The researcher, Martha Patricia Molina, accused Ortega of seeking to "strangle and disappear" the church with such action.

All 12 of the priests sent to Italy were previously held as prisoners, she said, adding that the announcement of the expulsion should not be interpreted as a thaw in relations between the government and the Vatican.

"The removal doesn't mean the end of hostilities, the attacks will continue and possibly more imprisonments as well," she said.

Bishop Rolando Alvarez, perhaps Ortega's most prominent Catholic critic, was this year sentenced to a 26-year jail term on treason charges, but was not among the 12 priests the government sent to Rome.

Nicaraguan clergy have reported government surveillance of services and assaults as part of what they say is an intensifying crackdown on priests and church-affiliated institutions though arrests, property confiscations and other legal measures.

The government has cited security reasons for some of its actions against the church.

In February, more than 200 political prisoners were expelled to the United States, nearly all of them government critics.


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