The transfer of Nicaraguan Monsignor Silvio Jose Baez to Rome, by an express decision of Pope Francis, caused surprise and bewilderment among the priests of the Archdiocese of Managua, who were consulted by Confidential.
We are “shocked and surprised” by the Pontiff’s decision to remove him from the country, a priest told Confidencial. The priest explained that his colleagues expected other news: like the announcement of a new bishop of León, since the expiration in November of Monsignor Bosco Vivas two extra years that the pope authorized him to continue leading that diocese.
“At the level of the clergy, many priests agree on the theory that they took him for political reasons. Perhaps many of us are thinking maybe a little bad, but we came to the conclusion that the Government asked the Nuncio (Vatican representative) for that. We haven’t found another way to understand it,” said a member of the clergy who is close to the Episcopal Conference. “It is not confirmed information, but it is something that priests intuit.”
The priest said it “seems curious” that Pope Francis has decided to take Baez “in the context of the current [stalled] negotiations”, in which the Nuncio is one of the international mediators and witnesses.
“If the Pope wanted to remove Monsignor Silvio, he would have done so long ago. Because Monsignor has even been less vocal of late. It is very strange that it is in this context of negotiation. You know how diplomacy is handled. The truth is that we don’t know how to finish understanding this,” the priest said.
“How are they going to take Monsignor Silvio from us if he is an important reference of a pastor who is on the side of his people? We see ourselves reflected in his person,” lamented the priest.
For his part, Monsignor Miguel Mántica commented on his Twitter account: “Dear Mons. Silvio, it hurts us that you have to leave. May the power of the Spirit be with you and your mission in Rome. We’re going to miss you a lot.”
And the bishop of Matagalpa, Monsignor Rolando Álvarez, wrote: “I want to reiterate my affection to my good friend, Bishop Silvio Baez and my simple prayers, in this new stage of his ministry, to which the Lord has called him.”
Was it to avoid elements of friction?
Historian and ex-Sandinista guerrilla commander, Dora María Tellez, analyzes the transfer of Monsignor Baez to Rome as a person outside the Catholic Church. Tellez believes that the pope’s decision can respond to both pastoral and political reasons of the Vatican State.
However, she does not find much logic in removing Monsignor Baez from the country for pastoral reasons, taking into account his popularity in Nicaragua. Tellez believes that Pope Francis could have done it “to protect his life”.
“He (Baez) has a vow of obedience to the Pope as every priest. If the pope says he has to go, he leaves. Although it seems strange to take away the most beloved bishop in conditions in which the Catholic church knows that it has been losing ground to the evangelical churches in Latin America and Nicaragua,” said Tellez, one of the founders of the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS).
Tellez also does not rule out that diplomatic and political reasons of the Vatican have weighed in the transfer of Baez to Rome and highlighted the principal role of witness and companion in the talks of the Vatican through the nuncio.
“Maybe the delegate of the Pope (the nuncio) or the State delegate of the Vatican consider withdrawing ‘elements of friction’ with the Ortega regime in exchange for something, because the Vatican must negotiate something and will not withdraw its pieces just like that. That is a possibility,” Tellez analyzed.
The historian also noted that Pope Francis “has not been categorical” in “mentioning the human rights violations committed by the Ortega government” in his statements about Nicaragua. “Perhaps this had allowed the nuncio to be in the position that he is,” said Tellez, who does not rule out that Sommertag has “as a person his own emphasis” on the crisis.
Reasons of State?
Sources linked to the Catholic Church doubt that the transfer of Bishop Silvio Baez responds merely to “pastoral reasons”, since the movement occurred when the Vatican diplomacy is focused on the second edition of the national dialogue giving positive results, despite the fact that it is suspended for a week after the lack of agreements on the issues of justice and democracy.
The nuncio Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag is one of the witnesses of the dialogue, together with the representative of the OAS Secretary General. Furthermore, before the installation of this second dialogue, the nuncio was the only interlocutor with the regime, after Ortega himself discredited the bishops as mediators.
According to the source, the mission of Sommertag in Nicaragua is to obtain “whatever it takes” an agreement between the parties to solve the Nicaraguan crisis, and revalidate the effectiveness of the Vatican diplomacy, burdened by its unsuccessful mediation in the Venezuelan dialogue that Nicolas Maduro “used to gain time”.
In that sense, the source said that the government would have insisted to the nuncio that Bishop Baez is “an obstacle to the negotiations”. “To remove Baez from circulation has been requested by the government to the nuncio, and the Pope has listened to the nuncio,” he insisted.
Baez has been the most vocal bishop to denounce the repression of the dictatorship, and, recently, criticized the regime’s breach of the agreements signed at the dialogue table, when less than 24 hours later the police repressed a peaceful protest. “It is not the agreements that they disrespect, but the humans; it is not negotiations they are hindering but the future of the country,” Baez wrote on his Twitter account on March 30th.
The departure of Bishop Baez was preceded by a virulent campaign of attacks by the regime against him. Ortega called him a “bravado”, while in the official government media he was called a “coup promoter”, “murderer”, an “instigator of violence”, and asked for him to be jailed, and even used manipulated audios to “prove his crimes”.
Last October, the government promoted, using the name of a Catholic base community they control, a letter “backed by thousands of signatures”, which was delivered to the nuncio to be sent to Pope Francis. In the missive they surreptitiously requested that Baez be removed as a bishop of the country.
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