CARACAS, Venezuela (ChurchMilitant.com) - Anti-Catholic sentiment from the Venezuelan government is growing.
At the end of January, supporters of President Nicolás Maduro — an armed gang known as the colectivos — took over San Pedro Claver Church in Caracas during Mass and forced those present to listen to a rant excoriating the Catholic Church.
Jesús Torrealba, the secretary general of Venezuela's opposition party, condemned the colectivos, who support the socialist government currently in power, and their aggression at the church. Torrealba tweeted, "The violent government supporters closed the door, prevented the parishioners from leaving, and forced them to listen to a political speech. The violent colectivos offended the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference and social leaders in the area in their speech."
Monsignor Diego Padrón, the head of the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference, commented, "These are not isolated occurrences but rather one gets the impression that these are premeditated events meant to intimidate the Catholic Church." The Catholic Church and President Maduro have been at odds for the past year, and the feud has only intensified in recent months.
Reportedly, on New Year's this year, priests all over Venezuela were instructed and encouraged to read an anti-Maduro homily sent by the Vatican. The text of the sermon encouraged Venezuelans "to put all their efforts into stopping the advance of the dictatorship and to eradicate it in a democratic way."
The homily also blamed Venezuela's food shortage on "an erroneous economic system, a socialist totalitarianism that gives government a total control of the economy."
Padrón further remarked that the Church is being singled out because it "has taken a very clear position before the government, noting its difficulties, problems and the crisis the nation is currently in."
The Catholic Church in Venezuela also came out against Maduro's government for not recognizing the opposition National Assembly in December 2016.
Archbishop Jorge Urosa Savino in an official statement said, "Failure to respect the Assembly constitutes a real situation of dictatorship for ignoring the popular will expressed in December of 2015 (when) the people indicated mostly not to agree with the current government."
On the issue of political prisoners, the Catholic Church leadership stated, "We call for the release of prisoners for acts connected with political activities. Both the judiciary and the government have legal and constitutional instruments to immediately release the majority of those citizens, more than 100, who suffer unjust imprisonment."
For the past year Venezuela has been undergoing a severe food shortage which according to many critics is due to the socialist policies of the Maduro administration.
Ivona Iacob with Forbes Magazine wrote:
Present-day Venezuela is facing a humanitarian crisis, and Nicolas Maduro, Chavez's hand-picked successor, and his socialist regime is rightly shouldering the blame. The country's emphasis on oil exports, price controls and a heavily-controlled economy are all features found in other current and former socialist countries — features that have contributed to the demise of whole economies or brought them close to it.
The Catholic Church has opposed and condemned socialism as leading organically to atheism, materialism and irreligion.
Pope Pius XI proclaimed, "(Socialism) is based nevertheless on a theory of human society peculiar to itself and irreconcilable with true Christianity. Religious socialism (and) Christian socialism are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist."
Pope Pius XII also stated, "To consider the state as something ultimate to which everything else should be subordinated and directed, cannot fail to harm the true and lasting prosperity of nations."