Venezuelan president reconsiders ties with Vatican as tensions with clergy rise

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Chavez: Venezuela rethinks relations with Vatican

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez announced Wednesday that Venezuela would rethink its relations with the Vatican as tensions rise between his government and Catholic Church representatives who accuse the socialist leader of becoming increasingly authoritarian.

During a televised speech, Chavez instructed his foreign minister to “examine” relations with the Vatican. Without elaborating, he questioned the validity of an agreement giving the Catholic Church privileges that are not extended to other religious organizations in Venezuela.

Chavez also challenged the authority of Pope Benedict XVI, saying the pope “isn’t God’s emissary on Earth.”

There was no immediately reaction from the papal nuncio in Caracas.

Chavez and Venezuela’s Catholic Church are clashing like never before.

In recent weeks, Chavez has said that Christ would whip church leaders for suggesting that he’s steering Venezuela toward a Cuban-style Marxist dictatorship. He also accused Cardinal Jorge Urosa of misleading the Vatican with warnings that Venezuela is drifting toward dictatorship.

Urosa has defended his decision to tell the Vatican that Chavez is curbing freedoms.

Chavez said Urosa represents the interests of “fascist, extreme right-wing” elites and accused the clergy of siding with opposition parties ahead of September legislative elections.

Priests critical of his government “are trying to manipulate the people,” Chavez said.

The Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference issued a statement this week warning that political polarization is creating a hostile environment ahead of the Sept. 26 vote.

Venezuela is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic.

Chavez claims that Christianity has a big influence on his socialist movement.

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