Even a cardinal is no match for Hurricane Hugo!

Once again, let me reiterate: I love this man. The Beeb has the goods:

Venezuela’s leader has demanded an explanation after a Roman Catholic cardinal said that the country was becoming a dictatorship.

President Hugo Chavez described the Church’s behaviour as “undoubtedly a provocation” and demanded a full apology for the “insults” and “hate”.

He said there was a conspiracy in Rome and at home to bring down his government.

So far, there has been no public reaction from the Church leadership to this latest row with President Chavez.

In his weekly TV show, President Chavez showed his anger about what had happened late on Saturday during a Catholic mass at a cathedral in west of the country.

Cardinal Rosalio Castillo Lara, the most senior Catholic clergymen in Venezuela, told thousands of worshippers at a pilgrimage in honour of the Virgin Mary that the country had “lost its democratic course and presents the semblance of a dictatorship”.

Venezuela’s socialist leader has now hit back by saying this was “shameful for the Catholic Church”.

Mr Chavez said he had called the Pope’s representative in Caracas but that he was so far not satisfied with the explanation offered by the Vatican’s ambassador.

The Venezuelan head of state said the Church should stick to spiritual work and stay out of politics altogether.

In the past, Mr Chavez and several Venezuelan church representatives had clashed over they way the government was carrying out far-reaching social and economy reforms in the country.

Of course, the church is remiss in more than just its spiritual missions; it is far behind in its charitable work here as well, or it wouldn’t be sniping at the first president to seriously tackle the issues of poverty, unemployment and lack of education and healthcare in Venezuela. It should be striving to help him, but it is not; it should have been doing work in those sectors all along, but it seems not to have. It’s been too busy sticking its oar in politics, propping up the worst parties of his opposition, according to the Oil Wars blog. And this is shameful, too, considering that it is supposed to be a source of refuge and succor to the poor. Or so it has presented itself…

There is plenty of evidence that Chavez is not just blowing smoke here about the vicious antagonism of the cardinal. This same churchman has flat-out said Chavez should be exorcised. Obviously he’s set himself up as some kind of spokesman for the murderous and disloyal opposition, who have wanted Chavez dead since at least 2002, if not sooner. He’s also one of a body of anti-Chavez churchmen who have been trying hard to paint Chavez as some new kind of Hitler.

But the joke’s on the cardinal: I have it on good authority the good people of Barquisimeto practically ran him out of town for his anti-Chavez sentiments when he tried to hijack a holy festival for unholy ends. Seems Barquisimeto is a pro-Chavez stronghold. They also take their feasts of the Blessed Virgin rather seriously, and they don’t take kindly to having politics mixed so inappropriately into it all. The cardinal would do well to overcome his unChristian arrogance and listen to them for a change.

Meanwhile, let’s at least give Chavez credit for trying to reach the bishops, even if most of them would rather support the rich oligarchy than the poor masses…or the president who’s doing his damnedest to help them out of poverty. The church has had twenty centuries to deal with the problem and hasn’t even made a dent in it. Chavez? Well, for Venezuela alone, in just seven years…you be the judge.

(UPDATE: No reprimand from the Venzuelan episcopal conference for the errant preacher man. Excuse: He’s retired, so he can meddle in politics if he wants. If that’s the case, why was he allowed to address worshippers at a mass–does “retired” mean something different for far-right cardinals than it does for the rest of us? Is there some kind of magical exemption applicable only to those who speak for the rich oligarchy?)

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