The Bishops Conference of Venezuela issued an strong statement Monday condemning the raid by local police forces of the parish of Our Lady of Fatima in the Eastern region of Barquisimeto, in a supposed search for anti-government material and activity.
“We wish to express our strongest protest against the subjection of the parish facilities to these irregular procedures,” the bishops stated, demanding “an official investigation into the matter” as well.
The bishops also expressed their “concern about the seizure of equipment belonging to Globovisión by the National Telecommunications Commission on October 3, 2003, an act which limits Venezuelans’ right to know.”
The country’s bishops also expressed their solidarity with “the families of those employees of the oil industry who have lost their jobs,” demanding that “authorities responsible for preserving the rule of law look into these matters,” including recent acts of terrorism which have targeted various institutions such as the Church.
“We call on all the Catholic faithful to preserve unity and to reject the unjust and abusive attacks on the bishops of the Church, and we thank those who have shown their support,” the message concludes.
Archbishop Roberto Luckert of Coro pointed out that when the raid on the parish of Our Lady of Fatima was carried out, an elderly priest was present in the building “and they could have cared less. They showed up and went inside very abusively.” He also said that the priest residents of the parish continue to wait for an investigation to begin to explain these actions.
Archbishop Luckert also slammed the claim that anti-government material was kept at the parish. “The only thing that they were doing there was informing people about their rights, especially now that voting will take place soon.”
Auxiliary Bishop of Lara, José Luis Azuaje, told the media that during the raid no one was allowed to enter the parish. “We were very upset by that and we question the police procedure that was being employed.”
Police officers claimed to be searching for an explosive device and searched the entire church, parish offices and rectory, “where they forced 95 year-old Monsignor Joao, who is confined to a wheelchair, to leave his residence.”
Police agents also raided a local civic organization which has its office in the parish buildings. The organization is devoted to local community affairs and has recently collected signatures against the Law on Social Responsibility in Radio and Television and has encouraged voters to participate in upcoming national referendums on the Chavez government.