Three Nicaraguan officials recently met in Rome with Vatican authorities in an unpublicized session aimed at blunting a papal order that would bar Nicaraguan priests from politics.
The papal ban, which is not limited to Nicaragua, could have far-reaching repercussions in that Central American country, where three priests are in the Cabinet and three others hold high-ranking jobs. Their presence has been regarded as a moderating influence on the left-leaning Sandinista leadership in Nicaragua.
In addition, the issue involves the role of the Roman Catholic Church in the politics of Latin America, where many priests have become political activists. Some priests have served with guerrillas, others have spoken out sharply against perceived human-rights violations, and many have run counter to some of the conservative governments, opposing political, economic, and social practices.
There is no indication that the Nicaraguans who met with Vatican officials were successful in their pleas. But there is hope in Nicaraguan circles that Pope John Paul II will somehow exempt their countrymen from the prohibition.
The three priests in the Cabinet are Miguel D'Escoto Brockman, who is foreign minister; Ernesto Cardenal Martinez, A noted poet who is minister of culture; and Edgar Parrales, the minister of social welfar e.
Fr. Cardenal's brother, Fernando Cardenal, also a priest, is head of the government's basic literacy program. His position may be affected as well.
The papal effort to get priests out of politics, which came to light last May when the Rev. Robert F. Drinan (D) of Massachusetts announced he would seek reelection to the US Congress, was thought by some observers to be limited largely to the United States.
It is believed the Pope did not make a blanket statement on the issue in May because he wanted to allow each Roman Catholic order to handle the issue in its own way.
Fr. Drinan is a Jesuit, And officials of that order were quick to implement the papal decree. Moreover, since Fr. Drinan was perhaps the most visible priest in Politics, Vatican authorities thought it necessary to act on his case before tackling the cases of activists priests in smaller, poorer, third- world lands such as Nicaragua.