Latin America & Caribbean

Nicaragua priest who defied Vatican to champion literacy dies aged 82

Fernando Cardenal with schoolchildren Image copyright Fe y Alegria Foundation
Image caption Fernando Cardenal with schoolchildren in a photo published by the foundation he led, Fe y Alegria

Fernando Cardenal, a Nicaraguan priest who defied Vatican orders to leave the revolutionary Sandinista government in the 1980s, has died aged 82.

Father Cardenal was one of several Nicaraguan Catholic priests sanctioned for their involvement with Daniel Ortega's administration.

He was suspended from the priesthood after refusing to stand down from his post as education minister.

He led a successful campaign against illiteracy in Nicaragua.

Cardenal said he would be "committing a grave sin" to leave his position in the Sandinista government.

"I cannot conceive of a God that would ask me to abandon my commitment to the people," he explained in an open letter in 1984, after being expelled from the Jesuit order.

Cardenal was eventually readmitted to the order in 1996.

'Christianity and Marxism'

The Jesuit priest became an adept of Liberation Theology, a religious movement centred in Latin America that looked at Christianity from the perspective of the poor and socially oppressed.

Its critics said it combined Christianity with Marxist principles.

He was one of many priests in the impoverished Central American nation who supported the Sandinista rebels' fight against the authoritarian government of Anastasio Somoza in the 1970s.

When they overthrew Somoza in 1979, Cardenal joined the new government.

He led a campaign that within a few years had reduced illiteracy rates to 13% of the adult population and served as education minister between 1984 and 1990.

His brother Ernesto is a renowned poet who served as culture minister in the Sandinista cabinet.

Ernesto, 91, was famously reprehended in public by Pope John Paul during a visit to Nicaragua in the 1980s.

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