Venezuela: Archbishop of Caracas Resigns Following Clashes with Government

Cardinal Jorge Liberato Urosa Savino celebrates a mass in memory of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, in Rome's Santa Maria dei Monti Church, Friday, March 8, 2013. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia

Pope Francis accepted the resignation of the Archbishop Jorge Urosa Savino of Caracas this week, the Vatican announced.

Cardinal Urosa presented his resignation on Tuesday after reaching the age of 75, where Cardinal’s are expected to retire. As noted by The Catholic Herald, “bishops must submit their resignations to the Pope once they reach 75, however, the Pope may choose to let them stay on.”

The archbishop of Mérida, Cardinal Baltazar Enrique Porras, will serve as the apostolic administrator until a replacement is found.

Urosa was appointed as Archbishop of Caracas in 2005, and a year later Pope Benedict XVI appointed him a cardinal. During his tenure, he repeatedly clashed with Nicolás Maduro’s socialist dictatorship, who waged a campaign against his leadership and other prominent Catholic leaders.

Unlike many left-wing dictatorships, Venezuela’s socialist regime under Hugo Chávez and Maduro has attempted to co-opt the nation’s Catholic tradition. Both dictators have tried to use Catholic teachings to defend their Marxist values. An estimated 70 percent of people in the country identify as Roman Catholic, while 29 percent are Protestants.

Maduro has repeatedly clashed with members of Venezuela’s Catholic leadership, including Urosa Savino, in recent years, who oppose Maduro’s degrading of democratic institutions and turning the country into a totalitarian dictatorship.

Last April, Urosa Savino was assaulted by members of a colectivo (a government-backed socialist gang tasked with intimidating political opposition) while delivering a sermon critical of the regime. Three months later, another mob stormed a Catholic Mass celebrating Holy Week and proceeded to hold Urosa and hundreds of worshippers hostage for hours.

Many other high ranking members of Church leadership called on citizens to take up peaceful resistance against Maduro’s rule while vehemently opposing the creation of a fraudulent lawmaking body that stripped elected lawmakers of their power and replaced them with handpicked pro-government “constituents.” Pope Francis also expressed his opposition to the move and has asked the regime show greater respect for human rights and civil liberties.

In response to the Church’s hostility, Maduro announced an investigation in January into priests delivering anti-government sermons, claiming it violated his new “law against hatred and fascism.”

“We must look into whether these words emitted by some of these characters are not truly hate crimes that appear to generate confrontation among Venezuelans,” Maduro said of the nation’s Catholic priests, while also accusing the Church of being full of “malice,” “poison,” and “perversion.”

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