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25 October 2005

The Catholic Church in Venezuela

Leonardo Boff, one of the founders of Liberation Theology, said, “"For
500 years, there have been two Catholic Churches in Brazil: one of the
rich and one of the poor.”" I have many friends who are priests and nuns
who work with the poor in Brazil. Their sacrifice and dedication are a
great source of inspiration to me.

I spoke at length with Charlie Hardy, a former Catholic priest from
Wyoming, USA, who has lived in Venezuela for more than 20 years. As a
priest with the Maryknoll Order, he used to live in a slum barrio with
no electricity, running water or toilets for many years. Because of his
strong sympathies with the poor, he is a supporter of the anti-poverty
programs of President Hugo Chavez. His insightful blog site, “"Cowboy in
Caracas: A Voice from the New America"” is: http://fuego.net/

Charlie explained that because of a historical Concordia agreement
between the government of Venezuela and the Vatican, only Venezuelan-born priests are allowed to become bishops in that country. A popular saying in the Church is that when a Venezuelan priest is newly ordained, he is told, “You have to decide, do you want to serve the people or become a bishop?” It means that if a priest decides to work with the poor, he will never be promoted in the Church heirarchy.

The Venezuelan bishops that are published in the newspapers invariably
criticize the Chavez government. (The newspapers are owned by the
superrich who are opposed to Chavez.) For example, Cardinal Rosalio
Castillo Lara said to journalists on Oct. 22 that Venezuelans ought to
“"deny recognition"” to the Chavez government and organize civil
disobedience against because it because it is, "“ill-fated and dangerous".”

High level Church officials criticize Chavez because he reduced
government spending for private schools, which affected Catholic
schools. During the April 2002 coup attempt, Cardinal Ignacio Velasco
tried to persuade Chavez to sign a letter resigning from the presidency
while he was under military arrest.

There is no archbishop in Caracas because the government does not
approve of the Vatican´s nominee.

There are a few progressive priests in Venezuela (Franciso Rondon in
Caracas, Obaldo Santana in Maracaibo who is second vice president of
Bishops Council, and Padre Paulo) who support the democratic reforms of
the government, including a bishop, so of course the previous admonition
is not always followed.

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