Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez continued his attacks on the bishops of the country this week, calling them “frantic defenders of the past, of injustice, immorality, and the powerful,” and claiming they are “shamefully attacking the truth.”
During a television program, Chavez said he believed in Christ and His “social thought,” using Fidel Castro as the embodiment of a leader using Christian principles as the foundation for a Socialist philosophy. “The Church,” he continued, “is something else. The Church became something else especially after the era of the first Christians. One only has to recall that the Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church blessed the genocide in Latin America and Africa. That Church cannot be the Church of Christ,” he stated.
The Venezuelan leader went on to denounce the Church for allegedly supporting dictatorships in Argentina, Uruguay and other countries, “with death squads and thousands of disappeared.” He also repeated his claim that the Church in Venezuela supported the coup attempt of 2002, “despite the fact that there has not been a government in the last 100 years as committed to the poor as this one,” he claimed.
Several days ago, Archbishop Baltazar Porras of Merida responded to Chavez’s claims, noting that the president asked the bishops for help in April of 2002. “The only thing we did,” he said, “was respond to a call by the president himself in order to carry out a priestly and humanitarian duty to protect his life and the lives of those who were with him, and now he wants to make it look like the Church was part of the plot against him,” the archbishop said.
He recalled how President Chavez asked the Church for help on that occasion. “At midnight between April 11 and 12, Rodriguez Chacin, then interior minister, told me the president wanted to speak with me. He handed me the phone and the president said, ‘Forgive me for all of the terrible things I have said about you. I am calling to ask if you would be willing to protect my life and the lives of the people with me.’”
During the television program, Chavez said he had been an altar boy and that his grandmother told him “to be careful with priests and not to believe everything they say.” “But I still had respect, veneration for things religious. I have never been into praying, although I make the sign of the cross. I don’t go to confession but I follow Christ,” he said.
Chavez also said he does not believe in the teachings of the Catholic Church, such as that of the resurrection of the dead. Some teachings, he claimed, “are absurd.” “I never believed that heaven was up above the clouds and that hell was below our feet. If that were true, astronauts would have seen it and oil drillers would have found it.”