Nicaragua has received unofficial word that Pope John Paul II plans to visit here early next year despite Vatican objections to participation by priests in the revolutionary government, high Sandinista officials reported.
The notification, while still not official, appears to remove what was shaping up as a major problem for the three-year-old Sandinista government if the pontiff made his trip to Central America, planned for February or March, without stopping in this heavily Roman Catholic country.
The Vatican last month insisted that as a precondition for a papal visit, Nicaraguan priests in the Sandinista government should resign their offices in line with Vatican rules that discourage political roles for the clergy, the officials said. A number of priests are active in high government posts here, including Foreign Minister Miguel d'Escoto and Culture Minister Ernesto Cardenal.
When the Vatican's wishes were made known to Daniel Ortega, head of the governing junta, he labeled them blackmail and indicated an unwillingness to go along, the sources said. This raised the spectre of a papal boycott at a time when relations between the Catholic hierarchy here and the Sandinista leadership already are strained.
Since then, the officials said, the Vatican has let it be known that the pontiff will accept the invitation extended to him by the Sandinista government. The notification came through unofficial channels and made no reference to the previous precondition, leading government officials to conclude the pontiff is willing to relent if a formula can be worked out, they added.
The formula might be provided by the nonaligned summit conference scheduled for early March in New Delhi, the officials suggested. D'Escoto plans to visit several countries in the Persian Gulf area on his way to India, meaning he can be absent from Nicaragua during the pope's visit without appearing to flee the pontiff, they added.
If a simillar face-saving solution can be found for Cardenal, the Vatican seems willing to settle for such a compromise, the officials said.
The question is a delicate one here because the Marxist orientation of the Sandinista leadership has split the Nicaraguan clergy between those who favor church participation in the movement and those who insist on a more traditional clerical role. Archbishop Obanda y Bravo, the leader of the hierarchy, has come down on the side of the institutional church.
As a result, the ruling Sandinistas have accused him of guiding the church with an orientation toward the rich who oppose the revolution.
At the same time, Obanda y Bravo and his Catholic church retain a wide following among the peasants and poor people whom the Sandinistas seek to represent and promote. Any papal decision to bypass Nicaragua, therefore, would be an important political setback for this government.