Nicaragua expels Catholic Bishop Alvarez, priests amid crackdown

FILE PHOTO: Pope voices his concern for imprisoned Nicaraguan bishop

SAN JOSE (Reuters) -Nicaragua said it expelled 19 clergymen to the Vatican on Sunday, including Catholic Bishop Rolando Alvarez, a prominent critic of President Daniel Ortega.

Bishop Isidoro Mora, 15 priests and two seminarians who were detained in Nicaragua were also expelled.

Nicaragua thanked Pope Francis and other Church members for "the very respectful and discreet coordination carried out to make possible the trip to the Vatican" for the clergymen, in a statement shared on local media outlet El 19.

Alvarez, the bishop of Matagalpa, forcefully criticized the government's deadly response to mass protests in 2018, and was convicted of treason and sentenced to a 26-year prison term earlier this year.

"Thank God he is gone, exiled but now free," a family member of one of the expelled clergy members said.

Mora was arrested in December for saying at a mass that he was praying for Alvarez, sources said.

The government has not issued any statements explaining any alleged crimes committed by the priests or reasons for their arrests but since the protests five years ago, Ortega has accused church leaders of seeking to overthrow his government.

(Reporting by Ismael Lopez; Writing by Cassandra Garrison; Editing by Richard Chang and Diane Craft)