Bishop Ramon Antonio Linares Sandoval of Barinas in Venezuela said this week he felt “honored” by the graffiti that has recently showed up around the city attacking the bishop for his criticism of the attempted military coup of 1992 led by current President Hugo Chavez.
On February 4, Bishop Linares Sandoval refused to celebrate a Mass to mark the anniversary of the failed coup attempt that then-Colonel Chavez led on the same day in 1992. He said at the time that the rebellion, “was against the constitutional order and therefore was a crime that led to the death of a significant number of people,” and therefore it did not merit celebration.
His decision sparked a series of negative reactions by Chavez supporters, who painted graffiti insulting the bishop on walls throughout the city, including on the walls of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Pillar.
“The attacks and the graffiti are the result of my decision,” Bishop Linares Sandoval said, explaining that when military officials in the region requested a Mass be celebrated to honor the uprising, he replied that he was willing to celebrate a Mass at the Cathedral for those who lost their lives on that day, as he had done in previous years.
“My decision,” he explained, “was to preserve the autonomy and independence of the Church, since religion cannot be placed at the service of politics, nor can priests or religious services be placed at the service of an ideology or a leader.”
Bishop Linares Sandoval said those requesting the Mass insisted it be an act of thanksgiving and for this reason he declined the request, unleashing a wave of insults. He called the attacks against the Church in Venezuela “a policy of the state,” noting that other bishops have been targets, such as Cardinal Urosa Savino of Caracas and the Apostolic Nuncio.
Cardinal Urosa has been repeatedly threatened with death, while the Nunciature in Caracas has been attacked with explosives on two occasions.