By Luis Manuel Galeano
MANAGUA, Nicaragua—Cardinal emeritus Miguel Obando y Bravo, who clashed with Nicaragua's Sandinista leaders and later reconciled with them, died on Sunday at age 92, the country's Roman Catholic church announced.
The Nicaraguan Bishops' Conference said in a statement that “the Church of Nicaragua is in mourning.”
The government-aligned publication El 19 reported on its website that Obando y Bravo died shortly before 4 a.m. Sunday. It did not give details but said funeral announcements would be forthcoming.
Obando y Bravo, a Salesian father, served as archbishop of Managua for 37 years before retiring in 2005. He also played an important mediator role throughout Nicaragua's recent, violent political history.
The cardinal was most famous for his clashes with the leftist Sandinista government of the 1980s, sharply confronting its alliance with a “people's church,” a Marxist-inspired version of Catholicism that outraged the Vatican and especially Pope John Paul II.
But he had earlier led the church toward a relatively friendly posture with the Sandinistas when they were a guerrilla movement battling the corrupt dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza, the last member of a dynasty that ruled the country from 1936 to 1979. The church twice mediated between the Somoza regime and the Sandinistas during hostage situations.
After the rebels took power in 1979, relations quickly soured. Sandinista supporters clashed with and sometimes harassed conservative clerics even as leftist priests were serving in the government of Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega—much to the irritation of the pope.
Pope John Paul II came to Managua in 1983, berated the maverick clerics and ordered Catholics to obey their bishops and avoid “unacceptable ideological commitments.”
Two years later, the pope elevated Obando y Bravo to the role of cardinal.
By the time Ortega lost the presidential election of 1990, the church had returned to a close relationship with Nicaragua's conservative elite.
Out of power, Ortega repeatedly tried to mend relations with the church and Obando y Bravo in particular, increasingly expressing religious faith.
Obando y Bravo was slow to accept that embrace.
When Ortega ran again for the presidency in 1996, Obando y Bravo alluded to him by telling the story of a man who was bitten after taking pity on a dying snake.
The archbishop's warm relationship with Ortega's rival, conservative Arnoldo Aleman, came back to haunt him as Aleman's reputation plunged. Aleman was later sentenced to 20 years in jail for fraud and money laundering.
During the 2001 campaign, at a time when Ortega was fighting rape allegations by his stepdaughter, Obando y Bravo urged Catholics to look for candidates who “have been exemplary in their families.”
But gradually, there was a thaw. Obando y Bravo presided over the 2005 marriage of Ortega and Murillo, his longtime partner.
Ortega, meanwhile, backed a church-supported law to outlaw abortion in all circumstances.
When Ortega was re-elected in 2007, he named Obando y Bravo coordinator of a Council of Reconciliation and Peace, and he frequently appeared alongside the president.
Born in 1926, Obando y Bravo was ordained as a priest in 1958.