MANAGUA, Nicaragua – Pope Francis has asked one of Nicaragua's most outspoken bishops to come to Rome for an undetermined period of time, church officials said Wednesday.
Silvio Báez, Managua's auxiliary bishop, has been a vocal critic of President Daniel Ortega and his government's crackdown on protesters over the past year. He said having to leave Nicaragua fills him with "sadness and pain."
Pope Francis recently told the 60-year-old Báez that he is needed in Rome. He didn't say if the decision was related to an alleged assassination plan revealed by former U.S. Ambassador Laura Dogu.
"He told me, 'I'm interested in having you with me here. I need you right now,' and I accepted with loving obedience," Báez said.
Báez said the U.S. government warned him of the plot several months ago. He told the pope that he had received a number of death threats during the past year, but it hadn't kept him from his work.
Drones constantly hover over his home. Men on motorcycles have entered the parking area. And he has had to change his phone number four times because of the threats.
Báez participated as a mediator in the short-lived first round of dialogue between the government and opposition last year. Ortega, who had invited the church to mediate, later blasted the bishops, accusing them of being coup-plotters.
When another round of talks was attempted this year, Báez was not invited to participate. The church withdrew from the talks April 3.
The Nicaraguan government did not immediately comment on Báez.
Nicaraguan writer Sergio Ramírez, winner of the 2017 Cervantes Prize, characterized the move as "a forced exile" via Twitter and called it "a hard hit to the fight for democracy in Nicaragua."
Last year, Báez and other church officials were attacked by a pro-government mob in the town of Diriamba. Báez escaped with a cut on his arm.
In October, a previously unknown Roman Catholic group in Nicaragua that local press tied to the government sent a letter to Pope Francis with 284,000 signatures asking that Báez be transferred. They accused him of promoting violence.
Báez said Wednesday "that was all a lie."
Nearly a year has passed since a move by Ortega's administration to cut social security benefits spurred large public protests that were met with violence by government forces and their supporters. According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, at least 325 people died in the unrest, 2,000 were wounded and at least 52,000 fled the country for exile.