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Church Says Exile of Priests Violates Religious Freedom With AM-Catholics-Nicaragua

July 15, 1986

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) _ The Roman Catholic Church in Nicaragua said Tuesday the forced exile of two priests violates religious freedom, but the government replied the two had illegally supported U.S.-backed rebels.

The exchange appeared in the government newspaper Barricada, which published a letter from the Bishops’ Conference, signed by its secretary, Monsignor Bosco Vivas Robelo, and a response from Rene Nunez Tellez, an aide to President Daniel Ortega.

The bishops said they ″protest most energetically″ the expulsion of Bishop Pablo Antonio Vega and the forced exile of Monsignor Bismarck Carballo, both Nicaraguans.

Vega, the second-ranking church official in Nicaragua, was forced to leave the country July 3. Carballo, the official church spokesman, was barred from returning to Nicaragua on June 28 after a trip abroad.

Both had been accused of sympathizing with the Reagan administration’s policies toward Nicaragua. U.S.-backed Nicaraguan rebels, known as Contras, are fighting to overthrow the leftist Sandinista government.

The bishops’ letter said, ″Besides violating religious freedom and showing disrespect for the faith of the Catholic people of Nicaragua,″ the forced exiles ″particularly offend the bishops of this Episcopal Conference and all of the Catholic Church and increase the tensions that exist between church and state.″

Nunez Teller replied, ″We disagree with the assertion that the application of the law violates religious freedom and shows disrespect for the faith of the people.″

He added, ″We believe that the (church’s) acts of support of the politics of aggression″ of the United States ″not only violates the laws of the republic but also constitutes disrespect for the faith of the people.″

Nunez Tellez said tension between church and state in Nicaragua is high and the two sides need to ″enter into a real and productive dialogue″ to improve the situation.

The Catholic church has become one of the strongest critics of the Sandinistas who came to power in July 1979 following their victory in the civil war against the right-wing regime of President Anastasio Somoza.

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