Venezuelan bishop warns government to respect constitution

A leading Venezuelan bishop called on government officials to avoid manipulating the constitution amid uncertainty over the swearing-in of cancer-stricken President Hugo Chavez for a second term.

"To alter the constitution to obtain a political objective is morally unacceptable," said Archbishop Diego Padron Sanchez, president of the Bishops' Conference of Venezuela.
"The political and social scene, because of the uncertainty stemming from the president's illness, remains obscure," he observed on Jan. 7 during the opening of the bishops' 99th Plenary Assembly.

"Various interpretations are being made of the constitutional norm that governs the swearing in of the president for a new term," he said, noting that the Chavez administration's first term expires on Jan. 10, the day that the president is supposed to take the oath of office after being reelected. 

"Election day on Oct. 7 would have made no sense if it were not for the purposes of a distinct term of government, similar to the new term of the current president of the National Assembly," Archbishop Padron said.
He underscored that the bishops' role is not to interpret the constitution but warned that "the common good of the country and the defense of ethics are at stake."

Archbishop Padron explained that disregard for the constitution would lead to power struggles, violence and anarchy, making the country ungovernable.
He also echoed national uncertainty over the lack of clear information about the current state of Chavez's health. 

"So far there has been no official declaration by a Venezuelan doctor," he stressed. "The government has only communicated its political truth, with obvious difficulty."
The archbishop highlighted the sentiments of solidarity being expressed towards Hugo Chavez, even among his political rivals. 

"It has been beautiful to see how the supporters and the adversaries of the president have come together in prayer and offerings to God for his speedy recovery and return, which is best for the country," he said. "To assume the contrary attitude would not only be anti-Christian but also inhumane and anti-Venezuelan."
Archbishop Padron concluded by calling on Venezuelans to turn their hearts to God and foster dialogue to overcome divisions and unite the country. 

"We are sure we will come out very liberated from the controversial national situation if we mutually recognize each other, if we value our abilities and count on the unfailing help of God," he said.

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