Institutions Politics

Pope Francis lifts 29-year suspension on liberation theology icon

Then president of the General Assembly, the Rev. Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann, holds a press conference to launch the 2009 Trade and Development Report. Photo courtesy of United Nations
The Rev. Miguel d'Escoto Brockman, then Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nicaragua, addresses the Security Council on 9 May, 1983. Photo courtesy of United Nations

The Rev. Miguel D’Escoto Brockman, then minister of foreign affairs of Nicaragua, addresses the Security Council on May 9, 1983. Photo courtesy of United Nations

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Continuing a bid to revive a movement that was sidelined by his predecessors, Pope Francis has reinstated a Central American priest who was suspended by the Vatican in the 1980s for his involvement in the political activities of Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista movement.

The Rev. Miguel D’Escoto Brockman, 81, was suspended from his duties by St. John Paul II and recently wrote to Francis asking for that order to be revoked so he could celebrate Mass again before he died.

D’Escoto and three other dissident priests were suspended in 1985 for defying a church ban on clergy holding government jobs. The Sandinistas, who supported the “popular church” of liberation theology, overthrew the pro-American regime of Anastasio Somoza in 1979. D’Escoto served as Nicaragua’s foreign minister from 1979 to 1990.

The Vatican announced Monday (Aug. 4) that Francis had agreed to the priest’s request to lift the 29-year suspension and asked D’Escoto’s superior in the Maryknoll order to help reintroduce him to priestly ministry.

Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers confirmed in a statement that the pope had agreed to remove “the canonical censure inflicted upon him,” and approved his reintegration and resumption of his priestly duties.

The move is likely to provoke fresh debate about Francis’ own political stance since he has been criticized by conservative American commentators for having a “Marxist” political perspective on international finance and capitalism.

Then President of the General Assembly, the Rev. Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, holds a press conference to launch the 2009 Trade and Development Report. Photo courtesy of United Nations

Then president of the General Assembly, the Rev. Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann, holds a press conference to launch the 2009 Trade and Development Report. Photo courtesy of United Nations

The sanction was also a reflection of John Paul’s broader crackdown on liberation theology in Latin America.

“During the 1970s, Father d’Escoto became engaged in politics in Nicaragua,” the Maryknoll statement said. “He joined the Sandinista National Liberation Front, a political party that overthrew Anastasio Somoza Debayle and established a revolutionary government.

“For his political actions, involvement in the Sandinista government and failing to resign from a political office held in violation of his ministry, Father d’Escoto was suspended from his priestly duties by the Vatican.”

D’Escoto was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1961. He helped found Orbis Books, the theological publication division of Maryknoll, and he was an official with the World Council of Churches.

From September 2008 through September 2009, he presided over the 63rd session of the U.N. General Assembly as its president.


About the author

Josephine McKenna

Josephine McKenna has more than 30 years' experience in print, broadcast and interactive media. Based in Rome since 2007, she covered the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis and canonizations of their predecessors. Now she covers all things Vatican for RNS.


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  • This is a great step towards recognizing the inherent politics and human nature of the church. liberation theology is an acting out of justice, a claiming that the standards, the politics, and the oppression of the majority in power do not honor and respect all of god’s people-all of humanity. so glad that pope francis has made this statement that clergy can (and in my opinion, should) be involved with the state of politics when it forces injustice on communities and countries!


  • The deception of life. JP II was made a saint whereas D’Escoto might be the real saint. JP II specialized in grandeur while he polarized his church. He liked the limelight while he may have neglected the poor.

  • As a Nicaraguan-American “Reagan refugee” I find your comment above revolting. D’Escoto has blood on his hands, shame on you.

  • When the Jesuits were ordered to abandon Liberation Theology the Church had signaled to all a loss of Its Mission to help the poor. Hopefully, this Pope’s dedication to his Order’s vow of poverty will signal a renewal of the fight to end this disparate treatment of our brothers and sisters.

  • Not true Xaiver.

    The church had been helping the poor before liberation theology and has not stopped helping the poor since liberation theology was started.

  • JP II did much to help the poor and oppressed: look at the fall of the Soviet Satellites due in large part to JP II’s moral courage.
    If JP II polarized any one it was because he preached the word of God and some did not like it.

  • d’Escoto took a position of prominence in a crooked communist government, defied instructions from his superiors to abandon political office, and was associated with an intellectual movement which sought to harness Christian theology to a Marxist enterprise. He repents of none of it. Another indication, if we needed it, that Francis does not teach, sanctify, or govern.

  • Art Deco–
    You are correct. Many are still fooled–and will continue to allow themselves to be. Liberation Theology is communist inspired. It was condemned, and for the pope to reinstate this priest made NO SENSE!!!!

  • Well you may be Nicaraguan but you don’t speak for all Nicaraguans, so no apologies needed. After all, not only the poor, mostly of indigenous descent, fled Nicaragua, but also the not so poor, more right-wing conservative of criollo descent. Also, if you are worried about bloody hands I suggest you don’t look too close at the hands of your cowboy hero Reagan… With the whole Iran-contra… Oh never mind, you already know that, yet still don’t care.