A group of bishops is NOT the Church!

Leave it to a humble padre in Venezuela to shame his higher-ups in the hierarchy. While the bishops are busy dissing Chavecito in a manner most ungodly, this priest felt it necessary to issue a timely reminder of just who is the Church.

The parish priest of Las Mercedes in Zulia state, Father Vidal Atencio, rejected the document “Called to Live in Freedom” from the Venezuelan Episcopal conference, which called the constitutional reform proposals “morally unacceptable in light of the social doctrine of the Catholic Church”.

“This document is political, not pastoral–it puts forth an ideological perspective from the side of capitalism,” said Fr. Atencio, criticizing a group of less than 50 persons for giving their opinion in the name of the Church.

“They are interfering with a sacred thing, the human conscience, by alluding to anthropological elements like freedom and conscience,” he said.

Fr. Atencio lamented that “we have seen the danger that can be caused by living under a capitalist system” and affirmed that the church hierarchy has interjected a “perverse” criticism of socialism.

“They intend to get an out-and-out ‘No’ vote [against the reforms] from the people. This is one of the biggest campaigns in favor of ‘No’, or against ‘Yes’,” he added.

Atencio placed special emphasis on how the bishops previously took the oppositionist line, but that now, it appears that the document was created ahead of the publication of the reform proposal.

“When the figures of the far right come out to give their declarations in defense of this document, it is as if they said ‘this is ours and we have to defend it’,” he added.

He also criticized how, with the pronouncement, the bishops discounted the opinions of those who are believers, but still are in favor of the constitutional reforms.

“The Church must promote a sincere dialogue. We don’t want to create another Church. We are not demanding a new pope or other bishops, but another attitude,” Fr. Atencio said during a visit with the editors of Ultimas Noticias. He pointed out that those priests who disagree with the position of the Catholic hierarchy are speaking out as individuals, but also activating mechanisms by which the people can express themselves, such as radio and TV programs, or over the Internet.

He said that he is not a Chavista, but that he still agreed on many points with the President.

“If anyone is in agreement with the social doctrine of the Church, it’s the government of President Chavez,” he affirmed.

He added that if he had to face any disciplinary measures as a result of his position, he would do so.

Translation mine.

This coincides nicely with an article by Charlie Hardy in the Narco News:

When people ask me about the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, I respond that the Church is very supportive of him.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of interviewing Samuel Ruiz, the former bishop of Chiapas, Mexico. After visiting with him for more than an hour about the Zapatistas, I asked him if we could talk about the Catholic Church. He replied, as best I recall, "I thought we were talking about the Catholic Church. If you want to talk about us bishops, that’s ok, but we are not the Church. We are only a part of the Church."

In Venezuela, it is the people who live in the barrios and the countryside that make up the majority of the Catholic Church. Hence when I tell people that the Catholic Church is very supportive of Chávez I am speaking of them; and, I follow by adding that most of the bishops, however, are not.

On October 19, the archbishops and bishops of Venezuela issued a statement with the title, "Called to Live in Freedom." It is a document very critical of the proposed constitutional reform in Venezuela and ends up saying that the bishops consider the reform to be "morally unacceptable in light of the social doctrine of the church."

Those are pretty strong words. "Morally unacceptable" to me is the same as saying the reform is immoral. Wow! I’ve read the statement a few times and I wonder if the bishops have the same copy of the proposed changes that I have. For example, they speak of a Marxist-Leninist state, but I can’t find any mention of Marx or Lenin anywhere in the proposal.

They also say that "a socialist state is exclusive and implies the cessation of pluralism, political liberty, and freedom of conscience for the citizens." Personally, I don’t see the connection. Especially when one reads in the proposed change of Article 158: "The state will promote as its national policy the preeminent role of the people, transferring power and creating the best conditions for the construction of a Socialist Democracy."

I won’t go on criticizing each line and paragraph. What the bishops have done is construct a straw man that they can knock down. They speak about how constitutions in democratic countries are the result of wide consultation. Baloney! The constitution of the United States, like most constitutions in the world, was the work of a handful of men. To the best of my knowledge, only Venezuela has had such large participation in the matter. In 1999 all voting citizens had the right to accept or reject it. I think it was the first time in the history of the world that such an event had taken place.

However, I would like to raise a question that I feel puts the matter in perspective: what right do the archbishops and bishops have to speak about democracy, when the Roman Catholic Church is one of the finest examples of an organization that has nothing to do with democracy?

Blammo! Another humble padre shames the hierarchy for talking out the backside of the ol’ cassock. (Hardy is a former priest; he left the priesthood in order to marry.)

It’s a pertinent question he asks, by the way, as is the issue Fr. Atencio raises. I don’t imagine either of them will get a particularly meaningful answer out of the bishops, though; we already know what side they’ve taken, and by the looks of Hardy’s piece, their hive-mind was made up about what all these reforms meant, even before they were written!

The pertinent question I have, which I don’t expect will get an answer either, is this: Who made up their minds for them? Surely not they themselves. This stands in stark contrast to what will happen in December, when the reforms come up for a vote in a public referendum. The people will then read the proposed changes to the Venezuelan constitution, and vote either yes or no to them, and whatever the outcome, so will it stand.

Somehow, I don’t get the impression the rules of the church hierarchy work the same way.

I do, however, like Hardy’s modest proposals for the bishops:

If I were Chávez, I would go through their statement and apply everything they criticize about the proposed reforms to the hierarchy themselves.

Here is part of one of their paragraphs: "The true subject of the Constitution is the people, not the state and even less the government; for this reason it should express the agreement of all sectors, currents and ideologies. It cannot be the consecration of the ideas or political propositions of a determined partial group. Consequently the "Carta Magna" should be supported by the widest consensus possible."

Ok, try this: "The true subject of the Catholic Church is the people, not the Vatican and even less the hierarchy; for this reason it should express the agreement of all sectors, currents and ideologies. It cannot be the consecration of the ideas or theological propositions of a determined partial group. Consequently the basic teachings of the Catholic Church should be supported by the widest consensus possible."

Oh my. Nothing like turning things back around to point out the inconsistency there, eh?

Hardy’s criticism of their doubtful “democratic” leanings is also a point well taken:

The bishops say that they are "carriers of the shouting and concerns of many communities and persons," but I don’t recall that they made much effort to consult anyone outside their own group in preparing the statement. They had a committee, made up of their own member
s, that drew it up. I didn’t see any consultation after any Mass that I attended in Venezuela. There simply was not wide consultation of "the Church."

On the other hand, there has been wide consultation on the part of the Venezuelan government. As in 1999, all Venezuelans of voting age will have a chance to vote on whether or not they accept the changes.

Back in the 60s there was a Vatican Council and there was consultation of the people in what went into the documents that the bishops finally issued. None of the current hierarchy in Venezuela participated as bishops at that time. But I, as a Catholic, felt I participated because our bishop in Cheyenne, Wyoming, (yes, little Cheyenne, Wyoming) was asking us what we thought the bishops should say each time they returned to Rome for their meetings.

Today the bishops would like to forget that the Second Vatican Council ever happened, except to pull out a phrase or two from time to time to serve their purposes. The ideals that were put forth there about the "People of God" have been forgotten. I think that might be why the proposed constitutional reform so grates on their nerves. It is intended to give power to all the people.

I will not deny that the reform will give more power to the president of Venezuela, at this moment Hugo Chávez. But if it is approved, it will be because the majority of Venezuelans feel they will have more power because Chávez will have more powers. And, it will be they who will have given him the power and who will hold him responsible for exercising it accordingly.

In the case of the bishops, it will be God alone who will hold them responsible. I’m just not sure that God had anything to do with making them the "legitimate" shepherds to lead in the anti-socialist society they want.

Slam dunk.

A group of bishops is indeed not the Church. That would be the people, the members, the rank and file. But in Venezuela, as at the Vatican, the hierarchy have a strange way of forgetting that. Their strangely selective memory makes me wonder whether they can be trusted to pronounce on just what is a democracy, and what is not.

Especially since they are historically so antidemocratic themselves.

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