CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 25, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI proposed that tensions between Hugo Chávez’s government and the Catholic Church be surmounted by promoting mutual collaboration for the benefit of Venezuela’s people.
As he greeted Venezuela’s new ambassador to the Holy See today, the Pope said: “I very much hope that the present difficulties in church-state relations will be dissipated and that there will be a return to a fruitful collaboration in continuity with the noble Venezuelan tradition.”
The Holy Father’s comments came when he received the letters of credence presented to him by Iván Guillermo Rincón Urdaneta, who until now was president of Venezuela’s Supreme Court. They met in Castel Gandolfo, in the hills south of Rome, where the Pope is spending the summer.
Relations between Venezuela’s bishops and President Chávez became tense shortly after he came to power. In February 1999, Chávez took measures which seriously hampered the charitable and educational programs of the Catholic Church in the country.
Since then, Chávez has hurled public accusations against the bishops and the papal nuncio, who expressed their opposition to concrete aspects of his government.
Last July 17, for example, in his Sunday radio and television program, Chávez insulted Cardinal Rosalio José Castillo Lara, the retired president of the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State who lives in Venezuela. The cardinal, 82, had cast doubt on Chávez’s democratic practices.
In his address to the new ambassador, Benedict XVI tried to calm spirits, acknowledging, for example, “the prominence that the government gave the mourning for the death of my venerated predecessor, Pope John Paul II.”
“For its part, the Holy See follows very closely the events in that beloved ‘land of grace,’ and has so said on numerous occasions,” added Benedict XVI.
The Holy Father also acknowledged “the importance that the Venezuelan public authorities give” to “the various programs of literacy, education and health care.”
At the same time, the Pontiff asked that the government respect the freedom proper to the Church to carry out its mission in Venezuela.
“Governments of states have nothing to fear from the action of the Church, which in the exercise of its freedom seeks only to carry out its own religious mission and to contribute to the spiritual progress of each country,” he said.
Freedom to serve
The Holy Father continued: “The Church, which cannot fail to proclaim and defend the dignity of the human person in his integrity and openness to divine transcendence, calls for the capacity to dispose, in a stable way, of the indispensable space and necessary means to fulfill her mission and humanizing service.
“The Church wants freedom solely to offer a valid service of collaboration with all public and private entities concerned with the good of man.”
In the face of the challenges posed by social justice in the Latin American country, the Pope said that a “loyal and respectful dialogue among all social sectors” is an imperative “as a means for consensus on aspects that concern the common good.”
Addressing ambassador Rincón Urdaneta personally, Benedict XVI said he hoped that “during the exercise of his important mission, the now traditional and historical relations between Venezuela and the Holy See will be strengthened with a spirit of loyal and constructive collaboration.”
About 88% of Venezuela’s 25 million inhabitants are baptized Catholics.