A delegation of Venezuelan bishops who met with President Hugo Chavez on Wednesday told the leader they would like greater mutual respect between the Church and the government in order to foster cooperation between the two.

Bishop Ubaldo Santana, President of the Bishops’ Conference of Venezuela, read a statement after the meeting in which he said the bishops desire to continue carrying out their work “in complete freedom,” “convinced that the exercise of our ministry contributes to the strengthening of the Church and the Venezuelan people.”

In the statement, the bishops call on the government to refrain from using disparaging language about the Church and “certain bishops,” as effective and legitimate dialogue is only possible by abandoning suspicion and hurtfulness.  They also asked that the Church not be attacked on government radio and television programs and that the person of Jesus Christ “be treated with respect and dignity.”

The bishops said they explained to Chavez that the exhortation the bishops published several days ago was drafted with “careful discernment, in a climate of mutual openness and prayer, and devoid of any complacency or deceit.”

They reiterated their call to Chavez to begin a dialogue with the nation and “to listen with tolerance and respect to constructive criticism” of his administration.  They said they were concerned about increasing public skepticism regarding the honesty and integrity of certain government institutions.

The reestablishing of the lines of communication between the Church and the government is essential, they added, “in order to move forward on important issues such as the right to life, religious education in schools and the arrival of new missionaries” in the country.