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Last Updated: Monday, 22 December, 2003, 20:36 GMT
Bishop attacks 'Chavez control'
President Hugo Chavez
Would Jesus be wearing a Chavez beret?
The president of Venezuela's Catholic Bishops Conference, Baltazar Porras, has accused the authorities of trying to control the Roman Catholic Church.

In a newspaper interview, he said President Hugo Chavez's government was trying to infiltrate church groups.

Monsignor Porras also warned against the rise of cults like those inspired by 20th-Century fascist leaders.

Mr Chavez has previously accused the Catholic hierarchy of siding with his wealthy political opponents.


Monsignor Porras told the leading Venezuelan daily El Universal that attacks against churches and religious images were frustrating church leaders, as they were never investigated by the authorities.

"Therefore it is valid to ask whether this is not something that goes beyond religion," he said.

It has been very difficult to set up talks with the government, which, he says, freely uses the name of God, the Pope and the Church.

This way they can justify the theory that Jesus was a revolutionary and that if he was with us now he would use a red beret to fight for the revolution
Monsignor Baltazar Porras
Mr Chavez rose to power on a populist vote in 1998 and describes himself as a "social revolutionary". In addresses to the nation he often quotes from the Bible.

He was also shown clutching a crucifix as he gave evidence to a televised parliamentary commission hearing into the deaths of 17 marchers in an anti-government demonstration and subsequent coup attempt in April 2002.

Monsignor Porras said the government appeared to be trying to create a sort of new lay cult along the lines of the national Catholicism of Spain's General Franco or the "lay liturgy" of Adolf Hitler's speeches.

"It is the old strategy to disqualify (the church) and to put forward a supposed fight against poverty," he said.

"This way they can justify the theory that Jesus was a revolutionary and that if he was with us now he would use a red beret to fight for the revolution. We are watching a type of contemporary idolatry."

Correspondents say there has long been a stormy relationship between the government and the Church.

Clashes between crowds of pro and anti-Chavez supporters broke out at the funeral of Roman Catholic Cardinal Ignacio Velasco in July.

The cardinal, who died after a long illness, was an outspoken opponent of Mr Chavez.

Anti-Chavez drive claims success
02 Dec 03  |  Americas
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09 Jul 03  |  Americas
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25 Dec 02  |  Americas
Venezuelan Bishop investigated
23 Nov 00  |  Americas
Timeline: Venezuela
13 Sep 03  |  Country profiles
Profile: Hugo Chavez
05 Dec 02  |  Americas

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