- PHILIP PULLELLA
A Nicaraguan presidential decree affecting the Holy See’s ambassador to the Central American country appears to be retaliation for comments made by local Church leaders criticizing the government’s slide from democracy, diplomats said on Friday.
President Daniel Ortega’s decree this week deprived Vatican Ambassador to Managua Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag of his title and role as dean of the diplomatic corps.
Apostolic Nuncio Monsignor Stanislaw Sommertag (center) speaks at a press conference in Managua, Nicaragua, March 5, 2019. PHOTO: Reuters / Oswaldo Rivas / File photo
In many countries with a Catholic tradition, the post of dean is automatically occupied by the Vatican envoy, known as the nuncio, regardless of the length of his stay in the country.
Sommertag, a 53-year-old Pole who has held the post since 2018, has openly supported the local church in its position of defending democracy in the country.
The official Nicaraguan Gazette said the change revoking a previous agreement with the Vatican was made to comply with an article of the 1961 Vienna Convention which Managua said calls for equal status within the diplomatic corps.
Rome-based diplomats, a Vatican source and a professor of diplomatic law, however, said the convention allows for an informal hierarchy in a diplomatic corps and that government action appeared to be an excuse.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, they said the move appeared to be linked to the Church’s pro-democracy stance in recent years and particularly in the run-up to recent elections.
“The timing is clear, occurring almost two weeks after the election. It is a shot through the arc of the Church, it seems like a warning and a punishment,” said one diplomat.
The government could not immediately be reached for comment.
Ortega, a former Cold War-era Marxist guerrilla leader who has served since 2007, landed a fourth consecutive term earlier this month after jailing political rivals ahead of an election widely condemned as not being free.
As the elections approach, the Nicaraguan Catholic Bishops’ Conference issued a statement that the country lacked “basic and indispensable conditions for holding free, fair and transparent elections.”
Ahead of the elections, the Archdiocese of Managua issued a statement denouncing what it called the systematic violation of political and constitutional rights as well as “threats against the Catholic Church. [and] offenses against its priests and bishops.