Rolando Alvarez, the bishop of the diocese of Matagalpa, Nicaragua, has delivered most of his homilies this month online as armed security forces have surrounded his residence. The church leader, who has become increasingly critical of the worsening dictatorship of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, including its recent crackdown on Catholic radio stations, had been under house arrest for two weeks when authorities finally took him into custody on Friday.
Alvarez is the latest victim of Ortega’s targeted campaign against his critics. The arrest of the bishop, who will likely end up either in prison or in exile in the coming weeks, was the country’s highest profile assault on the Catholic Church in recent months. At least eight other parishes in the Matagalpa area have been targets of a crackdown by law enforcement. Another priest who spoke out in favor of the bishop was also detained on Aug. 14, just two hours after officiating mass. The attacks have made clear that, under Ortega, any religious figures who denounce government abuses will lose their freedom.
The Catholic Church remains quite influential in Latin America, even though it has seen declining attendance in recent decades. The recent arrests would seem to be a moment when the Church could use its leverage to convince regional governments to do more about Ortega’s repressive rule. But that hasn’t happened. While brave local priests continue to speak out in Nicaragua, regional church leaders and the Vatican seem unwilling to do more.