UPDATED: Mons. Silvio Báez Called to Rome; Outspoken Bishop Leaves after Easter.

AUTHOR’S NOTE (4/11/19): This post has been re-edited to include several translations made by Carmelite Quotes. CQ translates Mons. Silvio Báez’ messages with his authorization. All CQ translations are linked to the original post on their blog. Anything that is not linked was translated by the author, based on the video of the press conference.

On Wednesday morning, Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, Archbishop of Managua, held a joint press conference with his auxiliary bishop, Mons. Silvio Báez. This was how Nicaraguans learned that Bishop Baez had been called to Rome, “for a while.” Cardinal Brenes stated that this decision had been made by Pope Francis.

Mons. Báez has been bishop auxiliary of Managua since 2009, when he was elevated to the office by Pope Benedict XVI. He is an outspoken critic of the Ortega-Murillo government. Baez is considered “the king of Twitter” in Nicaragua,” though he doesn’t see Twitter as a platform to boost his popularity. Instead, he considers social media as an extension of the real world.

“People inhabit social media. There are questions there; there is suffering there; there is pain there; there is hope there; and there are people there. As a pastor, I want to be where people are”, he said in an interview with Niu.

Mons. Báez’ departure comes at a critical time in Nicaragua, as negotiations between the Ortega-Murillo government and the Alianza Cívica have stalled again. There is speculation among many Nicaraguans as to whether the bishop is being transferred to placate the government. For example, journalist Mildred Largaespada hypothesizes that it could be a quid pro quo. “The regime demanded this in exchange for the release of political prisoner”, she wrote via Twitter “and if that were the case, I hope the Vatican was able to achieve the liberation [of prisoners] and nullification of trials, and then some”.

It is no secret that the Ortega-Murillo government has wanted Báez out since last year. In August, Foreign Minister Denis Moncada traveled to the Vatican, among other things, to lobby for Báez’ transfer. The trip proved unsucessful when the neither Pope Francis nor the Vatican’s Secretary of State would receive Moncada.

Aside from Moncada’s failed diplomatic mission, the Ortega-Murillo administration has engaged in a systematic propaganda campaign against Bishop Báez. In October of last year, when audio recordings of the bishop praising the “tranques” — the improvised barricades that crisscrossed the country — and mocking Foreign Minister Denis Moncada, came to light, media outlets controlled by Ortega and Murillo accused Báez of actively orchestrating a coup and supporting terrorist actions.  The Ortega-Murillo propaganda media also gave wide coverage to efforts led by the Christian Community Saint Paul the Apostle to have Báez recalled.

The government’s campaigns against Báez may be the reason why Carlos Fernando Chamorro, director of Confidencial, and Sergio Ramírez, novelist and former Nicaraguan Vice-President, believe that the bishop’s transfer is an “imposed exile.”

Unstated in Chamorro and Ramírez’s assessment is the assumption that the move is meant to protect Baez’s life.

Recently, Ambassador Laura Dogu, who served as US ambassador to Nicaragua from 2015 to 2018, revealed that she and Mons. Baez had been “targeted in an assassination plot.”

Mons. Báez confirmed this during the press conference’s Q&A session, noting that he had not wanted to disclose his knowledge of the plot before because he believed it to be a diplomatic issue. In other words, he did not want to compromise Ambassador Dogu or US-Nicaragua relations, by revealing information given to him in confidence. Now that Dogu has disclosed the plot herself, Mons. Báez stated that he the embassy had told him about it at the time.

Baez also said that he had been receiving constant death threats, harassment, and surveillance for months. “I’ve changed phone numbers four times”, to avoid death threats, “but that hasn’t stopped me, as you have seen.”

In spite of this, Bishop Báez took great pains to establish that the transfer was unrelated to his outspokenness, his safety, pressure from the Ortega-Murillo administration, or any thing other than the pope’s will.

“The decision is his responsibility, and I owe him obedience and fidelity,” The bishop added that he had “not requested” to leave Nicaragua.

“Pope Francis has been my greatest inspiration”, said Báez, who also described how the pope had approved of his “ministry and episcopal style” as auxiliary bishop. In other words, Báez was not reprimanded for his highly critical homilies and statements against the Ortega-Murillo government or his support for the Nicaraguan protesters. “The pope did not make one single reproof, not a single reproach, not one single correction. For me, it was Peter’s confirmation of his brother, noted Baez, adding that Pope Francis had said, “this is what I want; this is what I expect from bishops.”

During a personal audience with the pope, Mons. Báez refuted the idea that there was a confrontation between two groups in Nicaragua. “In Nicaragua, there is no confrontation between two groups. What we have is a group of idol-worshipers that sacrifice human beings. What we have in Nicaragua is a crucified people,” he told the pope.

In a recent interview with Vatican Radio-Vatican News, the apostolic nuncio to Nicaragua, Mons. Waldemar Sommertag, described the police’s strong-arm repression of a protest in Managua as “a confrontation between protesters and police, which did not help negotiations on matters of justice and the democratic process.”

Mons. Báez clearly disagrees with the nuncio’s portrayal of the situation, “I reminded [the pope] that this was a crucified people, that this is a hijacked country, and that here there are de-facto powers dominated by lies, injustice, repression, and ambition. Unfortunately, [these powers] worship the god of wealth and the god of money, and they sacrifice human beings to it.”

Báez believes this worship of wealth exists within the Ortega-Murillo administration and among Alianza Cívica negotiators. For him, the focus on material things threatens the negotiations, which could fail to achieve significant change if the parties do not embrace truthfulness and prioritize the common good, “We can have the best negotiators in the world, but if they lack political will, if they don’t walk on the path of truth, if they don’t consider the future of Nicaragua, beyond personal ambitions and ideological positions, nothing will be achieved.”

The bishop further opined that lack of political will, untruthfulness, and selfishness had caused the negotiations to stall. “It’s not about saving the economy; it’s not about throwing a life jacket to the financial market, please — today’s golden calf, which is money, cannot take the place of people. Without compassion for human beings; without a sincere effort to reestablish the rights and respect the dignity of human beings, we will not get anywhere.”

Bishop Báez concluded his remarks by stating his aspirations for the Catholic Church, which he hopes can be “less diplomatic and braver,” and more willing not just a “voice for the voiceless”, but also  “a voice against those who have too much of a voice.”

After the press conference, Bishop Báez reiterated via Twitter that the pope had asked him to Rome. He also thanked Pope Francis for “confirming” his ministry and “episcopal style”.

“I take in my heart, as a pastor, the joy and the sadness, the pain and the hopes of the Nicaraguan people.”

The bishop promised he would not stop advocating for Nicaragua, and to continue flying “the blue and white flag of our country with pride and hope.

Watch press conference here: