He was suspended from the priesthood after accepting a cabinet position in Nicaragua’s Sandinista government
Pope Francis has restored priestly faculties to 94-year-old Fr. Ernesto Cardenal, who had been suspended a divinas in 1984 for holding a cabinet position in Nicaragua’s Sandinista government, in violation of canon law.
“The Holy Father has graciously granted the absolution of all canonical censures imposed on Rev. Father Ernesto Cardenal, accepting the request he had recently made to him through the Pontifical Representative in Nicaragua, to be readmitted to the exercise of the priestly ministry,” said a February 18 statement from the Apostolic Nunciature of Nicaragua.
The statement, signed by Archbishop Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag, the apostolic nuncio to Nicaragua, said that “Cardenal has been under suspension of the exercise of the priestly ministry for 35 years due to his political party involvement. The religious accepted his canonical penalty imposed on him and has always observed it without carrying out any pastoral activity. In addition, he had abandoned all political commitment for many years.”
Cardenal, a poet and Marxist liberation theology activist, actively collaborated with the Sandinista National Liberation Front revolution that ended the dictatorship of then-president Anastasio Somoza. He was appointed Minister of Culture the same day the Sandinistas were victorious on July 19, 1979, an office that he held until 1987.
He was suspended a divinas by Pope Saint John Paul II in 1984 for violating canon law by assuming a public office that involves the exercise of civil power.
Several other priests – including Ernesto’s brother Fernando, Miguel D’Escoto and Edgard Parrales – were also suspended.
John Paul II publicly reprimanded Cardenal when he visited Nicaragua in 1983. In a now-famous photo, the Polish pope can be seen with a serious expression, standing before the Nicaraguan priest who is genuflecting and smiling.
Cardenal would say some time later that on that occasion the Holy Father asked him to “regularize his situation.”
In a January 2017 interview, Cardenal said that his suspension was still in place and he was “not interested in their lifting it.”
The statement announcing the lifting of Cardenal’s suspension references a request made by the priest to Pope Francis, indicating a change of position on the part of the priest since the 2017 interview.
According to the El Nuevo Diario news, Cardenal has been hospitalized in the Nicaraguan capital of Managua since February 4 for a kidney infection.
Auxiliary Bishop Silvio Báez of Managua posted on Twitter on February 15 a photograph of the visit he made with Cardenal in the hospital.
“Today I visited in the hospital my priest friend, Fr. Ernesto Cardenal, with whom I was able to talk for a few minutes. After praying for him, I knelt down in front of his bed and asked his blessing as a priest of the Catholic Church, to which he gladly agreed. Thanks, Ernesto!” Bishop Báez wrote.