Catholic priests in Venezuela took to the streets on Tuesday to demonstrate against Nicolás Maduro’s socialist dictatorship joining millions of Venezuelans rallying for Maduro to allow interim President Juan Guaidó to govern.
Catholic leaders marched through the streets of Barquisimeto wearing their ecclesiastical garb to show their support for wider anti-Maduro activism taking across the country.
— Táchira.Activa (@TachirActiva) February 12, 2019
Present at the protest was another opposition leader, María Corina Machado, leader of the center-right party Vente Venezuela, who expressed her gratitude to the priests for being in favor of the country. Machado was previously present at a Mass where Chavista gangs attacked Archbishop of Caracas Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino during Easter celebrations at the Santa Teresa Basilica Church.
— JuanCarlosFranco (@Francojuanky) February 12, 2019
The Vatican has traditionally refrained from encouraging clergy to join political movements, so such activity serves as another indication of the serious breakdown in relations between the Church and the Maduro regime. Last month, senior Venezuelan bishops released a statement denouncing Maduro’s rule as “illegitimate” after he successfully rigged last year’s presidential elections through vote rigging and a ban on anti-socialist opposition candidates.
“We are faced with arbitrary rule, without respect for the guarantees laid down in the Constitution or the highest principles of the dignity of the people,” they said. “[Maduro’s] claim to be initiating a new presidential term of office on 10 January 2019 is illegitimate in its origin and opens the door to the non-recognition of the government, since it lacks democratic support in justice and law.”
Venezuela’s Catholic Church has clashed with the Maduro regime over its widespread violence and repression, having repeatedly condemned the imprisonment of political dissidents and demanded an end to the use of torture. Government-backed gangs have responded to the criticism by repeatedly targeting Catholic Churches and property that they believe are opposed to Maduro and his far-left “Bolivarian Revolution.”
Last August, the headquarters of the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference (CEV), a Catholic organization that vocally opposed the socialist regime, were ransacked by Maduro supporters. In 2017, Chavista gangs stormed Caracas’ Carmen Church, holding hundreds of worshippers hostage for hours.
The Vatican remains one of the few states who have yet to officially recognize Juan Guaidó as Venezuelan president. The pope sent a representative to Maduro’s inauguration last month, lending the event legitimacy despite dozens of nations around the world not doing so. The Pope has long refused to take sides in the crisis, instead offering to mediate talks between the two sides and asking the Maduro regime to reduce its brutality.
On Wednesday, the Pope reportedly wrote to Maduro to say he will no longer participate in “any kind of dialogue” or mediation of the crisis because of his failure to keep pledges he made during previous agreements. The last major talks took place in 2016 and 2017 amid a widespread demonstration movement, although they eventually broke down after the Maduro regime failed to provide any meaningful concessions.
The pope reportedly said he now supports a dialogue where “the different parties in conflict put the common good above any other interest, and work for unity and peace.” According to Italian daily Corriere Della Sera, the letter was also addressed “Excelentisimo senor” (Very excellent Sir), not “Presidente.”