In an interview with the Globovision network, the secretary general of the Bishops’ Conference of Venezuela, Bishop Jesus Gonzalez de Zarate, strongly rejected the insults President Hugo Chavez made against Cardinal Jorge Urosa of Caracas, whom the president called a “neanderthal,” a “bum” and a “disgraceful bishop.”
In recent days, Chavez responded to the criticism of the bishops on his television show saying, “May the devil receive you in his bosom.” Making the sign of the cross with his hand, Chavez said, “You all can dress like cardinals and bishops but you belong to the devil. You are the defenders of the most corrupt interests.”
“They know they are shamefully lying and this makes them a bunch of bums, a line of bums from the cardinal on down. They should get a job. They should go plant potatoes,” Chavez said. “The bishops: dirty politicians from the cardinal on down,” he added.
Speaking before the National Assembly, Chavez said Cardinal Urosa “doesn’t realize that the people can’t be manipulated anymore. He is a neanderthal. Let them send a message to the Pope: As long as we have these church leaders here, we will continue to keep our distance from the Church.”
“Communism and Christianity can go hand in hand,” Chavez claimed. “Then along comes this cardinal to scare the people about Communism, as if we had a Communist agenda. Could it be that this guy doesn’t realize that the Soviet Union is history?”
Bishop Gonzalez replied to Chavez's attacks by stating, “We wish to manifest our categorical rejection of the attacks made by the President yesterday during the Assembly.” “These attacks are precisely what the cardinal was criticizing, that a solemn act is used to attack others,” he said.
Bishop Gonzalez also rejected Chavez’s “request” that Pope Benedict XVI appoint a “Super Cardinal” for Venezuela, for which the president suggested Bishop Mario Moronta of San Cristobal. “When the intention is to intervene in every area, including in the decisions of the Holy Father, we must be attentive to the president’s pretensions for dominance,” Bishop Gonzalez added.
After explaining that when the Church’s hierarchy issues an opinion it does so to “enlighten the consciences of Venezuelans,” Bishop Gonzalez said Chavez’s statements have been met with rejection across the country as hundreds have called to voice their support for the cardinal.
He also announced that the Venezuelan bishops would be meeting on Wednesday to analyze the situation and issue a statement that will be “spiritual and not political.” “Unfortunately, the president considers anything that goes against his way of thinking to be a personal attack,” the bishop added. “The bishops’ position is not political, it is enlightened by the intentions of the Holy Father and is intended to enlighten all Venezuelans,” he said.
Bishop Gonzalez stressed that the naming of bishops is the exclusive prerogative of the Holy Father and that inference by the State into the internal affairs of the Church is “truly negative.”