Prelate Warns of Chávez's Totalitarian Agenda

Says Presidential Attacks Against Church a Smoke Screen

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CARACAS, Venezuela, JULY 23, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Archbishop Ovidio Pérez Morales says Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's attacks against clergy are a "sort of presidential custom," and nothing more than a "smoke screen to hide something very serious."



The archbishop, president of the Venezuelan bishops' plenary council, responded Thursday to another barrage of attacks against the clergy, which Chávez had made the previous day during a televised ceremony at the military academy.

Archbishop Pérez Morales said the important thing was to focus on the changes that Chávez proposes to the Constitution.

"It is an effort to change a Constitution that is good and, as the bishops' conference affirms, is a sufficient base from which to promote the justice and freedom of the country," the 75-year-old prelate said. "This reform, with declarations and official acts, is taking us toward a socialist society, following the Caribbean model of Castro's Communism."

The campaign to discredit the Church "is nothing more than a smoke screen to hide something very serious, which is the effort to direct the Constitution toward totalitarian models; this is what he is planning," the prelate added.

Archbishop Pérez Morales contended that this would be a step backward for Venezuela: "We are going back to the 1960s, to the cold war, to a Marxism that proved itself unable to build a new society."

Lay support

The National Council of the Laity released a document concerning Chávez's criticism of the bishops.

The council expressed its condemnation of the "continuous and unjust aggressions toward the Church and in particular toward the bishops."

It expressed its "complete support and sincere gratitude to the bishops' conference and to all bishops for the pastoral exhortation 'Solidarity and Reconciliation,' published last July 7."

The national laity council added: "Those who despise or try to use demeaning language to make fun of the bishops for this duty they have performed seem to ignore the true significance of the sociopolitical dimension of each human person and the social dimension of Christianity and the Church.

"Speaking out in favor of truth, justice and peace goes beyond mere activities of political parties. And by doing so, our pastors are expressing the sentiments of all of us who, as the people of God, form the Church."

Insults

The July 18 insults included accusations that the bishops are supporting tyrants, "who take advantage of the people, those who betray Christ's thought and work."

Venezuela's president said that Christ was the bearer of one of the most radical, anti-imperialistic, anti-domination, humanistic and revolutionary discourses.

"If Christ appeared here, my Lord present in body, who would be left standing in Venezuela?" Chávez asked. And added, "I don't know what Christ would do to some bishops."

Chávez claimed support for "a large number of priests, true Christians, who are on the side of the people, who follow the will of the people, the hope of the people; they are true priests, the others are Pharisees, hypocrites, as Christ himself said."