Venezuela´s Chávez Steps Up Verbal Attacks on Church

Calls It a «Tumor» for the Country´s «Revolution»

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CARACAS, Venezuela, JAN. 28, 2002 ( Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez assailed the country´s Catholic bishops, accusing them of not «walking in the way of God» because they do not openly support the political leader´s «revolution.»

This was Chávez´s second attack on the Church in recent days. Last Thursday, during his New Year´s greetings to the diplomatic corps accredited to Caracas, the president verbally attacked Archbishop André Dupuy, the apostolic nuncio.

When the archbishop said that the «force of reason» should prevail over «reasons for force,» the military president said, «What they all must do is respect Venezuela´s sovereignty, from the Vatican to any state.»

Chávez added: «Look here, Monsignor, one of the tumors of the revolution is the Catholic Church.»

Then, in statements expressed Sunday during the radio and television weekly program «Hello, President!» the chief executive personally attacked Cardinal Ignacio Velasco, archbishop of Caracas, and the other bishops.

«Make an examination of conscience; go and stand before God and pray for a while an Our Father, or twenty Our Fathers and twenty Hail Marys,» Chávez said.

The cardinal and bishops had criticized a Mass celebrated last Wednesday, in which the Venezuelan leader and a Catholic priest expressed support for his Marxist-inspired social policies.

In past months, Chávez has tried, unsuccessfully, to establish a Church loyal to his government (similar to that in China), separated from the bishops, with priests and former priests who subscribe to his Marxist ideology.

His criticisms against the Church grew harsher after 80,000 protesters marched last Wednesday in Caracas in opposition to his government.

This was the largest protest against the 3-year-old Chávez government. As a result, the president has sped up the militarization of his regime with the appointment of Ramón Rodríguez Chacín as Interior Minister. Chacín was a navy captain who took part in the failed 1992 coup organized by Chávez himself.

The appointment followed soon after the suspension of Vice President Adina Bastidas, who was replaced by Diosdado Cabello, a retired colonel who also took part in the failed coup against democracy. Four other military men of the unsuccessful coup are now in the Cabinet.

At least 50 soldiers occupy midlevel posts in government, the diplomatic corps and state-run enterprises.

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