Photo: Venezuelan Priests disobeyed John Paul II
Pope John Paul II, beatified in May, warned Venezuela’s clergy to stay away from parties seeking to stage a coup against President Hugo Chavez nearly 10 years ago, but the hierarchy of Venezuela’s church deliberately defied him, and according to a series of wires obtained by WikiLeaks, they were encouraged to do so by the Bush Administration. The wires, which were shared with several news organizations show that church officials at the Vatican briefed U.S. diplomats on the pope’s concerns but acknowledged that the country’s Roman Catholic bishops were likely to ignore the orders.
“The Holy See is concerned about the prospect of civil violence in Venezuela in the coming months, and the pope himself has urged the Venezuelan bishops to ‘cool it’ on political activism and instead to encourage dialogue,” said a secret wire from Jim Nicholson, then U.S. ambassador in the Vatican, which he sent to the State Department on Nov. 19, 2002.
In another document, Nicholson recounts meetings with the Holy See’s director for Caribbean affairs, Giorgio Lingua. The Vatican diplomat said he was afraid that violence soon would come to Venezuela and that John Paul II had ordered bishops to seek dialogue with Chavez - who had recently stated that the Catholic Church was a “cancer on Venezuelan society”.
But bishops in Venezuela were long past the dialogue stage.
“Lingua, smiling, thought the message from the pope ‘might not have sunk in,’ the cable said. “He admitted that Cardinal Archbishop Antonio Ignacio Velasco Garcia of Caracas was perhaps too close to the coup plotters.”
The cable said that “the continued activism of the Venezuelan clergy in the face of the pope’s caution does not surprise us.”
A confidential Oct. 19, 2004, cable from Cardinal Jose Castillo Lara, a Venezuelan who held numerous Vatican positions over the last 40 years portrays the church-state relations of that time.
Castillo Lara said the church had been “less confrontational” with the Venezuelan government, but he didn’t think that all bishops would play along.
“He did not discount that certain bishops, working individually, might be more active with opposition groups,” the embassy wire said.
Relations between Venezuela and the church remain icy.
“Chavez has taken some very strong views of the church. He’s argued that the church has largely been part of the opposition,” said Peter Hakim, the president emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue “I don’t get a sense that there’s ... any cease-fire with Chavez.”