To give a more detailed account of the situation from the ground in Venezuela, here below is a guest post from Oscar Schlenker, a Venezuelan journalist and Caracas correspondent for Deutsche Welle.
A former correspondent for Rome Reports, Schlenker explains how the Holy See’s approach, in contrast to the country’s bishops’ more hard line position, has not been popular among many in Venezuela.
However, the Vatican’s latest statement, in which the Holy See strongly criticized the Maduro regime and expressed profound concern for the situation, has given newfound support for Pope Francis, even if some Venezuelans felt it was “too little, too late.”
For more background and the latest news on the country’s unrest, see my article “Venezuela on the Brink,” published Aug. 10.
“The Catholic Church in Venezuela has been very vociferous about the increase in human rights violations and has vehemently rejected the rise of authoritarianism in Nicolás Maduro’s policies.
However, society and politicians are aware there is an evident divide between the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference (CEV) and the Holy See. The CEV is much more direct in issuing statements and denouncing injustices in Venezuela than the Vatican.
The meeting between the Holy Father and cardinals and bishops from the CEV in June 2017, gave believers hope in that the Vatican was going to be more upfront at rejecting Nicolas Maduro’s government.
The Vatican received a lot of criticism from the public when they tried to mediate a dialogue that extinguished hopes of a referendum in 2016 and then criticism turned to disappointment when that dialogue failed because the government did not comply with conditions set forth and approved by the Vatican. Sentiment against Pope Francis grew and was evident in social media, opinion columns and commentaries.
What kept the faith in the Church for many was the strong criticism to the government from the CEV.
In terms of recent political events, on July 8th the CEV rejected Nicolás Maduro’s bid for a Constituent Assembly, something Mons. Diego Padrón (President of the CEV) called a “communist and Marxist formula to organize society”.
It wasn’t until the day of the Constituent Assembly Election on July 30th that the Holy See issued a statement urging the government “to prevent or suspend ongoing initiatives such as the new Constituent Assembly which, instead of fostering reconciliation and peace, foment “a climate of tension.” Since that statement, although many have said it was too little too late, most Venezuelans have expressed a newfound support for Pope Francis.
Many politicians, journalists and commentaries use the Vatican’s statements to support their own criticism of the government. Catholic support is extremely important in Venezuela in order to cement an opinion, an action or even an institution.
Maduro’s government knows this well.
For the installation of the Constituent Assembly, amidst scandals of fraud, violence and the rejection of most the continent, the government called upon Jesuit Father Numa Molina, the parish of the St. Francis Church in Caracas, to bless the newly installed, all governing power. That generated a lot of criticism from the opposition.
It is safe to say most of the country opposes Nicolás Maduro and his government: most polls put approval ratings below 20%, those aligned with the government slightly above.
In any case, Venezuelans have gotten used to political strife in the past 18 years and the Church has always had an opinion. They are closest to the drama of malnutrition and deaths due to food and medicine shortages. Donations sent by Caritas are more often than not confiscated by the government.
As a consequence of the recent military uprising in the Paramacay base in Valencia, nearby monasteries Casa Hijo de Cristo Rey and Casa Don Bosco (AKA Carabobo Diocese) were raided and searched without a warrant.
Intelligence forces have not given any details as to what evidence was found or what they plan to do with it, but pro-government news agencies have already started blaming these nuns and clergy of being accomplices to ‘terrorism.’”