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Fernando Cardenal, the priest who defied the Vatican, dies in Managua

News from Nicaragua | Monday, 22 February 2016 |

Fernando Cardenal was one of three priests committed to liberal theology who served in the Sandinista government of the 1980s. The other two were his brother the poet Ernesto Cardenal and Foreign Minister Miguel D’Escoto.

All three were expelled from the priesthood by Pope John Paul II for defying the Pope’s order to abandon politics on the grounds that politics and the priesthood are incompatible.

In an open letter in 1984 Cardenal wrote "I cannot conceive of a God that would ask me to abandon my commitment to the people."

In 1980, four months after the Sandinistas overthrew the Somoza dictatorship, Fernando Cardenal led the government's literacy crusade, which taught more than half a million people to read and write with the support of 60,000 young volunteers.

The campaign reduced illiteracy from 50.3% to 12.9% in five months also contributed to building understanding between Nicaraguans of different classes and backgrounds and to raising political awareness. This achievement was recognised by the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 1981.

Cardenal stepped down as Minister of Education in 1990 after the electoral defeat of the Sandinistas and was reinstated as a priest in 1997.

A critic of the FSLN, Fernando Cardenal left the party but continued his work in education, serving as national director of a Jesuit programme that aimed to improve educational opportunities for the poor.

The Sandinista Renewal Movement issued a statement recalling how Cardenal denounced the repression of the Somoza dictatorship: “his commitment, vocation of service, integrity, and love for Nicaragua characterized Fernando Cardenal throughout his entire life.”

Fernando Cardenal died on 20 February, 2016, at the age of 82.