Hugo Chavez vs. the Catholic Church
Cardinal Rosalio Castillo Lara wasn't an oracle, but he did point out in a Mass sermon last year what too few were seeing in Venezuela.
"A government democratically elected seven years ago has lost its democratic way and shows signs of dictatorship, where all powers are in the hands of one person who exercises them in an arbitrary and despotic way, not for the purposes of bringing about the greater common good of the nation, but rather for a twisted and archaic political project: that of implanting in Venezuela a disastrous regime like the one Fidel Castro has imposed on Cuba, at the cost of so many human lives and the progress of his nation," he said.
"If the Venezuelan people fail to grasp the seriousness of the situation and fail to categorically speak out in favor of democracy and freedom, we will find ourselves subjected to a Marxist-style dictatorship."
The cardinal died Oct. 16 at age 85. His passing was a news footnote on a day when Chavez's constitutional reformation -- under which he can rule the country indefinitely and would exert new control over institutions -- went to parliament.
Still, though, Hugo Chavez's fear of the Roman Catholic Church in this 96 percent Catholic country is palpable, considering his overblown responses to clergy expressing opposition to his lust for a Bolivarian wonderland.
The late Cardinal Ignacio Velasco, a longtime critic of Chavez, said in 2002, "Every day we turn another cheek. I have no cheeks left because every day there is a new insult." Upon Velasco's death in 2003, Chavez declared he was "in hell." At Velasco's funeral, Chavistas threw stones and held up pictures of the cleric with devil horns.
Chavez has invoked the name of Christ so much lately you'd expect him to become the first communist televangelist. But as he refers to Jesus as "the greatest socialist in history," his invocations are hardly Christ-like as they usually involve spitting venom at his opponents.
Like how he recently took aim at Venezuela's Catholic leader Cardinal Jorge Urosa and other opposition clergymen: "If Christ were still alive and physically present, I'm completely sure he'd take them out with whippings," he audaciously told a crowd of supporters.
On Nov. 11, Urosa told Globovision TV that Chavez's slate of 69 constitutional amendments "leads toward a single ideology and that, of course, is going to be discriminatory, it's going to be exclusionary and it's going to have terrible consequences for all liberties."
Cue Hugo's next un-Christian move: revenge.
Earlier this month, a pro-government student leader said that Chavistas were waiting for the call to "take" Andres Bello Catholic University.
On Friday, El Universal reported that the National Assembly directed its committees on Domestic Policy and Education to launch an investigation into Venezuela's Catholic schools for supposedly fomenting rebellion against Chavez's constitutional reformation.
But the Church would be falling down on the job if it didn't be a strong, good shepherd in the face of the wolf.
The archbishops and bishops of Venezuela issued a statement on Oct. 19 entitled "Called to Live in Freedom," taking such a stand against Chavez's shameless initiative. "The proposed Reform excludes political and social sectors not in agreement with a Socialist State, restricts freedom and represents a retrocession in the progress of respect for human rights," the bishops' conference wrote.
As "the proposed Reform violates the fundamental rights of the democratic system and of the person, threatening freedom and social harmony, it is morally unacceptable in the light of the Social Doctrine of the Church."
The Council of Latin American Bishops' Conferences expressed solidarity with the document, as did Venezuela's National Council of Lay Catholics.
"The alarm bells should not only be ringing in our neighboring countries, but Venezuelans must wake up to face the prospect of constitutional reform," said Archbishop Roberto Luckert Leon.
And as Chavez steamrolls toward totalitarianism, the church could be the last voice to stand in his way and shepherd the opposition.
The church has discouraged neo-Marxist "liberation theology" in Latin America. But now it finds itself in a position where "reforms" stand to entrap a nation in the whims of a paranoid, dangerous megalomaniac. Do you wait until later, when the church is run out of town and the cult of Chavez is the sole sanctioned religion, to try to liberate the people? Or do you take a stand now, this crucial point where the people must know they have the inalienable, God-given right to live in freedom?
As Cardinal Castillo Lara once said when asked if he'd give Chavez a blessing, "More than a blessing: I'd give him an exorcism."
Bridget Johnson is a columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News.