Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Episcopals show their spine!

Venezuela's Roman Catholic Church told President Hugo Chavez on Monday he had failed to behave like a head of state by using a state television broadcast to berate a cardinal who called him a dictator. So begins this story from Reuters. The contraversial Venezuelan president used his bully pulpit to play the bully. The Bishops of Venezuela saw fit to tell the man, "Grow up!" Here are some details:
"The president must understand he is precisely that, the president, and should know how to behave," Monsignor Roberto Luckert, the Archbishop of Coro, told Globovision television.

"He should give an example of respect if he wants to be respected," Luckert added.

The incident was the latest clash between outspoken nationalist Chavez, who says his socialist policies to fight poverty follow the teaching of Christ, and senior church critics in this predominantly Catholic nation. Some bishops accuse him of trying to implant Cuban-style communism.

Chavez, who says he is a Catholic and whose popularity is high in opinion polls, says the bishops are siding with the rich against him.

He said on Sunday that if Christ was alive today he would be a "radical socialist" and back his policies to use oil wealth to finance health and education for the poor. He says Venezuela's Catholic hierarchy supported a brief coup against him in 2002.

Luckert said the Church did not seek to topple Chavez. "But what I want the president and his team to understand is that there are things that are not working well and should be corrected for the good of the nation," he said.
Archbishop Msgr. Luckert went on to add:
"If you disagree with the government, you are immediately dismissed ... as a coup-monger, a terrorist," Luckert said.

He recalled that Chavez had himself led a failed coup attempt six years before he won a 1998 election.

"He calls everyone a coup-monger and forgets his own history," Luckert said. Chavez was attending a summit of Andean leaders in Lima, Peru, on Monday.
O contraire, your excellency. Mr. Chavez has certainly not forgotten his history. He lives it anew. As a one-time revolutionary, he believes that any dissent from his rule means another revolution brews. Considering that a recent Coup failed to oust him, he sees rebellion in every criticism of his increasingly autocratic and socialistic rule.

It's fascinating: The more things change, the more they stay the same. One of the earliest struggles in early Church history, once the Church entered the early Middle Ages, involved conflicts of authority between Clergy and Laity. Early Monarchs struggled with Popes over the appointment of Bishops and the juristiction of the Church within the rule of their kingdoms. Today, President Chavez attempts to usurp the perogative of the Bishops while claiming that they infringe on his administration. Only the Bishops and the Pope have the teaching authority that Christ bestowed on them to declare authoritatively what Jesus would do. Mr. Chavez can claim whatever he wants. Catholic Social Teaching denies his assertions about Christ's approval for his socialism. As to his belief that the Bishops have "sided with the rich", well, he sees criticism as the warm-up to revolution. Since he has tried to rule without the consent of the people before, he assumes others will do the same. He projects his own paradigm on others and then acts accordingly.

The true victims of his meglomania are not the disparaged Cardinal or the besmurched Bishops. The people of Venezuela suffer for Mr. Chavez' delusions of grandeur. If he truly cared for the welfare of his people, he would cease antagonizing those factions of his society that have something positive to contribute, even if it doesn't suit his socialist tastes. He may well be South America's new Castro, oblivious to the failure of Stalinist communism but not to the personal aggrandizement of dictatorship. The Bishops of the Catholic Church in Venezuela speak as prophets with steel in their spines. Mr. Chavez would do well to listen to them.