Someone needs to say a few Hail Marys

And while they’re at it, they need to stop getting priests to lie for them.

Try to imagine Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, dressed up as a bishop — the head bishop — of his own state-sponsored church.

According to media reports coming out of Latin America, President Chavez is considering a proposal that would establish him as the high priest of his own form of evangelical Christianity, convert his cabinet members into bishops of a lower rank, and submit church activities to the civil and military power of his government.

It is still unclear who is behind the proposal. Publicly, it has taken the form of a petition by leaders of "Centro Cristiano de Salvación" (Christian Center of Salvation). The association claims to represent 17,000 evangelical churches and 5,000,000 Venezuelans. Their request is simple: make their denomination the country’s official religion, teach it in all public schools and pay the pastors from government coffers. In turn, they will make Chavez their head bishop and promise to submit absolutely to his authority.

Uh, the “media reports out of Latin America” he’s referring to come from just one source, and this is it. As you can see by the date, it is over five years old. And that will surely make a laughing-stock out of FOX’s “Father Jonathan”, who cites (but doesn’t appear to have interviewed) a former deputy whose own conduct in office is highly questionable, democratically speaking (scroll down to the bottom section of this piece).

Why would a priest, of all people, feel compelled to repeat a lie? According to Luigino Bracci, a Venezuelan bloguero, this is just one of a wave of anti-Chavez pieces, each more preposterous than the last. It’s being pushed by the international media in an effort to delegitimize a very legitimate president whose electoral mandate has grown, and whose policies have overwhelming support among his people. Meanwhile, the opposition has run out of fresh baloney, and must make do with recycling the old. Luigino describes how the truth was discovered, in true Chavista fashion, through co-operative effort:

A few hours ago I wrote about the anti-Venezuela manipulation of news by the Mexican agency NotiMex, discovered by our friend Carlchucho.

Then our friend Dalila Benedetti and other members of the Aporrea forum uncovered the most recent media manipulation against our country: an agency called “ACI” (Catholic Information Agency, based in Lima, Peru) released a wire story this past 14th of December, claiming that a group of Protestants were petitioning President Chavez as their “archbishop” and proposing a “Law of Evangelical Ecclesiastic Power”, in which they asked that “Protestant beliefs be incorporated into all levels of the educational system”. The item was immediately broadcast by various Catholic websites, such as, the Agencia Catolica Argentina, and the Catholic channel EWTN.

But the note contained an interesting little detail: it affirmed that the deputies Dario Vivas and Edgar Zambrano were in charge of writing the law. As we know, Zambrano was an AD deputy until the year 2005, when the opposition withdrew from elections, and the parliamentarian is still out of work.

Dalila and friends began an investigation, and discovered the truth: the news item cited by ACI was originally published on July 9, 2001, by the evening paper El Mundo, and even today, five years later, you can read it in its entirety on this web page.

The ACI agency, and all the Catholic media which echoed it, owe a big apology to their readers for this inexcusable lack of journalistic rigor. The apology should also be extended to President Chavez, to the Protestant community, and finally, to their God, who has on innumerable occasions enjoined them against lying and deceit.

(Translation mine; links his.)

Luigino has taken the words right out of my mouth. They do, indeed, owe many apologies. (Whether they will make them is another matter entirely; knowing the Venezuelan opposition and its shamelessness, I doubt it.) It’s amazing what lies get perpetrated in the name of political gain–even by those claiming to be on the side of God!

But no matter who’s claiming what, you must always consider the source of the claim. This piece comes from a conservative Catholic news agency. That alone should tell you something about its author’s biases. Hugo Chavez, though very much a Catholic himself, has been at odds with certain members of the church hierarchy ever since he convened a Constituent Assembly to rewrite the Venezuelan constitution. Seems that some bishops don’t like it when the people’s elected representatives, rather than the Vatican, determine what Venezuela’s separation of powers should be. And no wonder: thanks to the Constituent Assembly, the church found its political powers considerably reduced, along with its state funding. For example, here’s a juicy tidbit from Michael McCaughan’s excellent book, The Battle of Venezuela:

The Catholic Church cried foul when news leaked that in the revised constitution abortion might be permitted under some circumstances. “I knew something fundamental had changed when I heard the swish of cassocks and saw several bishops running up the stairs of the presidential palace,” recalled Maria del Mar, who sat on the women’s rights commission. “They would normally send their subordinates to dictate their orders.” In the run-up to the vote the church openly opposed Chavez. “If the Yes vote wins then peace and democracy will be endangered,” said Bishop Roberto Luckert, adding, “we may succumb to a constitutional dictatorship which is worse than a military dictatorship because [Chavez] will have absolute power legitimized through the constitution.” […] The Catholic Church subsequently faced a cut in state education subsidies, a key factor in its enduring hostility to the Chavez administration.

Despite Bishop Luckert’s claim, peace and democracy were not threatened in the least by the passage of this radical new constitution; rather, the democratic situation improved for the once disenfranchised majority of Venezuelans. But for the minority accustomed to a covert de facto dictatorship by such traditional powers as the church, the military high command, the business sector, certain cronyish union leaders, and the corrupt old political parties AD and COPEI, it was as though a bomb had gone off in their faces. Suddenly faced with the loss of their once unquestioned power (and the ready access to the nation’s coffers that had gone with it), they plotted a bloody revenge in an effort to set things back. You can see who the real threats to peace and democracy are; some of them appear in The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

Who are those smiling churchmen, talking on cellphones and patting the backs of the conspirators who suspended Venezuelan democracy for two days? Carlchucho identifies two:

Carlchucho notes the prominence of the late Cardinal Ignacio Velasco (second video, 7:55) when dictator Pedro Carmona, in the style of the imperial Napoleon, swears himself in as “interim president”. Velasco also appears at 1:28 in the first video. He is believed to have tried to persuade Chavez to sign a let
ter of resignation, which Chavez refused to do.

At 1:50 in the first video, you can also see Monsignor Baltasar Porras, of the Episcopal Conference–another prominent churchman. Porras has gone on record accusing Chavez of being a personality cultist of the Hitlerian variety, and of trying to control the Catholic church. The fact that both of these spins are inaccurate (not to mention insane) seems to have eluded the monsignor. The truth is that Hitler used the Catholic Church to his own ends, and more reprehensibly, the church let him. In fact, more than a few German churchmen openly backed him, just as these Venezuelan churchmen backed Carmona.

Is this what “peace and democracy” amounts to for the ecclesiastical hierarchy in Rome and Venezuela? A blessing for the total demolition of democracy, not to mention the bloodshed that both preceded and followed the Carmona Decree? Is this what “Father Jonathan” has in mind when he repeats the opposition’s drivel without questioning its source? Or when he writes hilarious things like this?

The Catholic Church, representing more than 90% of the population, has been a thorn in the side of President Chavez. For many years, the local body of Catholic bishops has reminded the president publicly and in no uncertain terms, of a politician’s responsibility to defend human rights, reject corruption and seek the common good of all citizens.

Actually, Chavez is the thorn in the side of the church. He continually reminds them of their responsibilities to the people, and they don’t like that, particularly when he points out their many obvious shortcomings. The cut in education funding is one example of his willingness to fight back against an antidemocratic, reactionary faction within the church. But that doesn’t make him a heretic. As we have seen from his joke at the United Nations, he is still very much a Catholic; he crossed himself against the sins of a certain dubious (and purportedly Protestant) leader of the United States, something you won’t see anyone but an observant Catholic do. Chavez is also highly respectful of Liberation Theology, which is more in line with the teachings of Christ than the Empire of Rome. In fact, it informs his own thinking to a great extent. In that sense, he’s a better Catholic than the churchmen who presume to lecture him!

Nor is he in the pocket of any evangelical lobby; in fact, he recently ousted an evangelical group, the New Tribes Mission, from Venezuela, because it was interfering with the religious freedom of the indigenous peoples. Chavez has also alleged CIA espionage via the front provided by the New Tribes group; certainly their practices are highly suspect. And don’t even get him started on Pat Robertson.

There is no corruption or dictatorial intent at work behind Chavez’s actions, no matter how hard Father Jonathan tries to create the impression that there is. Nor is there a full-on war between the church and the state, as he would like us to believe. Near the bottom of the piece, the padre (who, despite his collar, looks more like a FOX news anchor than a sacerdotal celibate) has to make the self-contradicting admission that “Catholic leaders have taken a more conciliatory tone and the new Cardinal Archbishop of Caracas, Jorge Urosa Savino, has succeeded in building a relationship of mutual tolerance, if not respect.”

Now, that is a tiny bit closer to the truth, but it doesn’t do much to allay the fears he consciously raises in his sensationalistic opener–or the final paragraph, which hastily reverts to the same old anti-Chavez line for which FOX, like the major Venezuelan media, is rightly infamous. Perhaps Father Jonathan should take a closer look at what Cardinal Urosa Savino himself has said about Chavez. The “conciliatory tone” of the church is not the only mitigating factor; Chavez has been open to dialogue all the way down the line, even when, as in the months before the coup, certain churchmen rejected the opportunities he offered them to sit down and talk. The worst he has done is to criticize them publicly. But you’d never know that to hear it from Father Jonathan!

If anything, the Bolivarian Revolution is simply about equality. That means freedom of religion for all Venezuelans, regardless of belief. Even FOX’s pet priest half-heartedly acknowledges that “a wide range of denominations has been free to worship and operate independently of government control.” Well, duh! That is what is written in the constitution. A law boosting evangelical powers, however, is conspicuously absent even now, five years after that first false story surfaced in the press.

Yes, Luigino is right…someone owes their readers a big apology. And while they’re at it, they may want to say a few Hail Marys and make a good Act of Contrition, as is customary in their faith–because Jesus doesn’t like it when you lie.

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