CARACAS, (Reuters) – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez yesterday rebuffed criticism from Catholic bishops by ordering a review of diplomatic ties with the Vatican and declaring that the pope is “no ambassador of Christ on earth.”
His comments, in which he also called Venezuelan bishops “cave dwellers,” followed a weeklong dispute between the leftist leader and the local Roman Catholic Church hierarchy. It has accused him of trying to impose Cuban-style communism in the Latin American oil producer.
Chavez says Venezuelan Cardinal Jorge Urosa and his bishops are siding with the political opposition in their attacks on his socialist revolution.
His critics denounce government harassment of foes, takeovers of private companies and strategic nationalizations.
Addressing a campaign meeting of his ruling PSUV party focused on legislative elections in September, Chavez said his critics in the local Catholic leadership were “assuming a role of state that doesn’t correspond to them.”
“They think they’re a power above the state. Well, you can forget that, you cave dwellers,” he shouted.
Chavez ordered Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro to review the government’s diplomatic accord with the Vatican.
He also said Urosa had been summoned to appear before the National Assembly to explain why he believes Chavez’s socialist program violates the Constitution.
Chavez said that while he recognizes Pope Benedict as head of state of the Vatican, “he’s no ambassador of Christ on earth.”