By Matthew Cullinan Hoffman, Latin America Correspondent

CARACAS, July 13, 2010 ( – The Cardinal Archbishop of Caracas has sparked outrage from Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez after denouncing the president’s regime for imposing a totalitarian “Marxist communist” system on the country.

The two have been verbally sparring for weeks following the discovery of hundreds of thousands of tons of rotten food that were being distributed to consumers through the government system.

“This is not just about the loss of hundreds of thousands of tons of food, but what this signifies,” said Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino in an interview published by the newspaper El Universal on June 27. He explained that “all of this occurred because the government, which intends to control all areas, is moving along a totalitarian line and way beyond the tasks that are proper to it, such as guaranteeing the personal and patrimonial security of the citizens, the good functioning of public services, the sovereignty and independence of the country.”

The Chavez regime is “intervening in all of the aspects of the life of Venezuelans in the imposition of a Marxist-communist line,” he added.

In recent years, Hugo Chavez has seized control of numerous economic sectors, including food distribution, which has been followed by severe shortages of basic items.  He has also moved to silence his opponents by force, revoking the broadcasting licenses of numerous radio and television stations and arresting his political opponents, leading to accusations that Chavez is seeking to set up a totalitarian state.

The government, said Urosa in the interview, “is exercising functions that are proper to particulars, those who according to the Constitution have the right to participate in economic activities. This intervention in all the areas of the economy, going beyond the necessary controls, is a manifestation of the Marxist-communist line that the president wants to impose.”

“Marxist totalitarianism permits, to those who occupy high positions in the government, the absolute domination over the rest of the population and this is something that questions the social doctrine of the Church, because it brings about great injustices and the subjection of the people to the government,” added Urosa.

Regarding Chavez' claim that Jesus Christ was a socialist, Urosa was unequivocal.

“That is a great error. Jesus Christ was not a socialist nor a monarchist nor a republican nor a liberal nor a political leader,” he said.  “He was a religious leader and more specifically, the Son of God made man. He is over all systems, ideologies, or regimes. The religious sentiments of the people are being manipulated with these affirmations. What Jesus Christ promoted was the fraternal love, the justice, the greatness of human beings.”

Chavez responds

President Hugo Chavez has not taken taken Cardinal Urosa's critical remarks to heart. Instead he has responded by calling the prelate a “troglodyte,” and calling upon him to do penance for his remarks, leading to a tit for tat exchange that has lasted for more than two weeks.

“This cardinal, who accuses me of violating the Constitution, would have to demonstrate it before a tribunal,” Chavez said in one of his responses. “He is not respecting the people and the whole nation because he is lying.”

“Now they accuse me of being a tyrant, that I am leading Venezuela to a dictatorship. This cardinal of the Catholic Church even makes the accusation that we are constructing communism here,” said Chavez, adding that “that cardinal knows he is lying.”

Chavez has also accused Urosa of being in the pocket of his political opposition, as well as the United States, and even to have participated in the 2002 coup that unsuccessfully sought to remove him from power. “Now this cardinal comes out, because he has been sent here by the dirty ones, the little Yankees, to try to frighten the people by speaking of communism, that communism has arrived. Listen, he's a troglodyte.”

Significantly, Chavez, in a long statement posted on the government's own website, admitted that he does regard himself as a Marxist, although he doesn't regard it as a “dogma.”

Claiming that he is “with much pride, Bolivarian, Christian … and also Marxist,” Chavez went on to say “if you see there a contradiction, I can do little to make you understand; in me those conceptions of life live together in a close brotherhood.”

Urosa and the rest of the Catholic hierarchy in Venezuela have responded by defending Urosa's remarks and condemning Chavez for refusing to consider their value. Urosa has also denied that he is allied to any political opposition to Chavez.

“On various occasions the president has offended me verbally, exposing me to public ridicule. I totally reject these aggressions that are unworthy of the one who carries them out,” Urosa remarked in a recent exchange.

“Instead of reflecting and pondering the arguments put forth and rectifying his line of conduct, he limits himself to insult and offend,” he said of Chavez.

He also repeated his previous accusation, warning that Chavez “wants to take the country down the road of Marxist socialism that controls all sectors, is totalitarian and leads to a dictatorship, not even of the proletariat but of the leadership.”

Cardinal's words reflect Catholic teaching

The words of Cardinal Uroso reflect the Catholic Church's traditional teaching that socialism is incompatible with Christianity. Clear and unequivocal condemnations of socialism can be found in the official statements of the popes dating back to the 1870s, when Pope Leo XIII issued an encyclical for the express purpose of condemning it.

In his encyclical letter Quod Apostolici Muneris (1878), Leo accused socialists of “stealing the very Gospel itself with a view to deceive more easily the unwary,” and said that they “have been accustomed to distort it so as to suit their own purposes, nevertheless so great is the difference between their depraved teachings and the most pure doctrine of Christ that none greater could exist: 'for what participation hath justice with injustice or what fellowship hath light with darkness?'”

Pius XI, writing in 1931, acknowledged that “Socialism, like all errors, contains some truth” but is nonetheless “irreconcilable with true Christianity. Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.”

The words of the earlier pontiffs were echoed by Pope John Paul II in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, where he stated that “the fundamental error of socialism is anthropological in nature.”

“Socialism considers the individual person simply as an element, a molecule within the social organism, so that the good of the individual is completely subordinated to the functioning of the socioeconomic mechanism,” the pope explained. “Socialism likewise maintains that the good of the individual can be realized without reference to his free choice, to the unique and exclusive responsibility which he exercises in the face of good or evil. Man is thus reduced to a series of social relationships, and the concept of the person as the autonomous subject of moral decision disappears, the very subject whose decisions build the social order.”


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