PENSACOLA, Fla. (OSV News) — The priesthood ordination of a Nicaraguan deacon arrested with Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa and currently exiled in Florida was postponed because proper documentation was needed from the imprisoned Bishop Álvarez.
It had been announced that Deacon Raúl Vega would be ordained a priest May 12 in the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, where he serves after he and other political prisoners were expelled from their homeland. However, the diocese announced May 7 that the ordination would be put on hold.
In a statement posted on the diocese’s website, Bishop William A. Wack said that “because of the character of the ministry of the priesthood, it is absolutely vital to ascertain that everything is in order before proceeding with an ordination.”
The bishop explained that “obtaining proper documentation and permission has been a challenge, and I am not completely certain that I have that ability to authorize this ordination.”
“Rather than celebrate an ordination and then discover that certain elements were missing (thus making it invalid), I have decided that we are not able to ordain Deacon Raúl to the priesthood at this time,” the statement continued. “Please pray for Deacon Raúl as he continues his ministry with us in the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee.”
The Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee shared a statement with OSV News, further explaining that “Bishop Wack of Pensacola-Tallahassee is unable to ordain Deacon Raúl Antonio Vega González because we are not able to receive permission from Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa, who is currently in prison.”
Bishop Álvarez, who heads the Diocese of Matagalpa and is administrator of the Diocese of Estelí, has decried human rights abuses in Nicaragua. He was sentenced in February to more than 26 years in prison after being convicted of treason, undermining national integrity and spreading false news. He had been held under house arrest for months after an August 2022 raid on his diocesan headquarters.
Deacon Vega was among a group of churchmen held at the Matagalpa Diocese headquarters for over 15 days, along with the bishop. Unlike Bishop Álvarez, Deacon Vega and 10 other individuals were sent to a political prison in August.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has persecuted political opponents, arresting seven potential presidential candidates before he won his third consecutive term in 2021, in a race the United States and European countries considered rigged. He has treated the Catholic Church as a political enemy by arresting priests, expelling missionaries and the apostolic nuncio, and closing Catholic media outlets and educational and charitable projects. A recent report released in May details 500 instances of attacks to the church in Nicaragua since 2018.
Bishop Álvarez’s prison sentence in February 2023 was administered after he decided to stay in Nicaragua and not join the more than 200 other Nicaraguan political prisoners who were being deported to the United States. Deacon Vega was on the flight with the political prisoners. Days later, the bishop, Deacon Vega and other political prisoners and exiles were stripped of their citizenship. The last time Bishop Álvarez was seen was during a government-staged televised interview from a Nicaraguan prison in March.
Deacon Vega, 27, was ordained a transitional deacon by Bishop Álvarez June 29, 2022 — months before his arrest last August. After spending five months in prison, Deacon Vega and seven other individuals — three priests, two seminarians, a deacon and a cameraman — were found guilty Jan. 26 in a secretive trial, in which they were denied representation by lawyers of their choice. They were sentenced to 10 years in jail under conspiracy charges, which they denied. In February, the deacon was sent into exile to the United States with other political prisoners. He has been serving in the Pensacola-Tallahassee Diocese since.
In early May, the deacon gave an interview to news outlet Artículo 66, where he called the ordination, now postponed, “a gift from God.”
“This ordination is something I have long awaited and is, at the same time, a sign of hope for all of us,” he said in Spanish. “I am more than sure that the unjust imprisonment I lived through shaped my life and vocation. Neither the hardships of life nor the bars of prison have caused my vocation to waver.”
Auxiliary Bishop Silvio José Báez of Managua, who was forced to leave Nicaragua in 2019 due to security concerns, released a May 7 statement on Twitter about the postponement of the ordination. The exiled bishop, who serves at a parish in Miami, was scheduled to concelebrate Deacon Vega’s ordination.
“In a prudent act of pastoral concern, my brother Bishop William Wack, the bishop of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, has informed me of his decision to postpone the ordination of exiled Deacon Raúl Vega (of the Diocese of Matagalpa) to the presbyterate,” Bishop Báez said.
“While this news may cause some confusion, I support his decision wholeheartedly and I am grateful for his closeness to me, his embrace of deacon Raúl and his steadfast solidarity with the church in Nicaragua,” said the exiled bishop, who was also stripped of his Nicaraguan citizenship in February.
“With great hope in the Lord, I look forward to the day of Ordination of Deacon Raúl, whose witness inspires me,” he added.