Members of Congress Call for Bishop Rolando Álvarez’s Freedom

By Ambassador Callista L. Gingrich

A House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee hearing on Nov. 30, chaired by Rep. Chris Smith, issued an urgent appeal for the immediate and unconditional release of Bishop Rolando Álvarez, who remains wrongfully imprisoned by the Ortega-Murillo regime in Nicaragua. Bishop Álvarez is currently the only known cleric in Nicaragua who remains incarcerated by the dictatorship, and there is little to no information about his location, health, or well-being. 

The dictatorship has targeted Bishop Álvarez, one of the regime’s most outspoken and well-known critics, for more than a year. In the early morning hours of Aug. 19, 2022, Nicaraguan authorities arrested Bishop Álvarez, claiming he participated in “destabilizing and provocative activities,” and placed him on house arrest. 

Months later, in February, after courageously refusing to flee the country, Bishop Álvarez was stripped of his citizenship and sentenced to more than 26 years in prison for being a “traitor to the homeland.” Álvarez was charged with “undermining national security and sovereignty,” spreading fake news,” “obstructing an official in the performance of his duties,” and “aggravated disobedience or contempt of authority.”

Regarding the sentencing of Bishop Álvarez, Pope Francis said, “It is something out of line with reality; it is as if we were bringing back the communist dictatorship of 1917 or the Hitler dictatorship of 1935.”

For President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, religious freedom, particularly for Catholics who make up about 50 percent of the country’s population, poses a significant threat to their grip on power.  

In the last two years, the regime expelled the papal nuncio, exiled and deported priests, and repeatedly harassed institutions and members of the Catholic Church. Additionally, religious orders and congregations had their assets seized and their legal status canceled by the dictatorship.

According to the Episcopal Secretariat of Central America, “The Catholic Church in Nicaragua is the only voice that [the regime] has not been able to silence, but they intend to silence it and thus leave the Church submerged in silence.”

Rep. Smith is working to bring attention to the Ortega-Murillo regime’s brutality and call on the U.S. government to advocate for Bishop Álvarez’s release. 

Minimal public action from the Biden administration following a Congressional hearing in March on the Ortega-Murillo Regime’s War Against the Catholic Church and Civil Society prompted Rep. Smith to hold a second hearing to appeal for Álvarez’s release and to issue a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken requesting information on what the administration has done to advocate for his freedom.

According to Rep. Smith, “Bishop Álvarez’s life and ministry have been an inspiring example of compassion, kindness, integrity, and selfless service.” 

Rep. Smith added, “He has consistently encouraged Nicaraguans not to fall into the temptation of despair and instead be ‘inundated with the hope of Christ,’ who defeated death. Instead of lashing out in bitterness at his captors—including President Ortega—Bishop Álvarez has called for forgiveness, renewal and hope.”

During the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee hearing on Nov. 30, the testimonies of exiled prisoners of conscience made clear the extent to which the regime is threatened by the Catholic Church, specifically Bishop Álvarez. 

One exiled prisoner of conscience testified, “They blackmailed me and threatened the lives of my relatives, because they wanted me to declare that the Bishop was a member of an organization that wanted to promote a coup d’état against Daniel Ortega.”

As Rep. Chris Smith asserted, “The United States must act quickly and use every tool at its disposal to secure Bishop Álvarez’s immediate and unconditional release. He deserves to be respected and revered—not persecuted and incarcerated.”  

Bishop Rolando Álvarez must be freed from wrongful imprisonment in Nicaragua, and the United States government should demand his release.