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Attacks against Catholics signal Venezuelan government's mistrust of church

Pro-government activists take over pulpit at Sunday mass, insult priest

CARACAS – Caracas' 23 de Enero Roman Catholic parish is in the city's Libertador Bolivarian municipality, a low-income area where the leftist Bolivarian revolution took root.

When members of the "colectivo," an urban guerrilla charged with defending the revolution, recently crashed the Sunday Catholic mass, there was panic. They were aggressive. 

Church goers said the members of the "colectivo" insulted the priest and took to the altar for a political speech peppered with expletives. They referred to the priest a fascist and a "devil dressed in cassock"  and they shouted "Long live Chavez!" 

"That day we felt quite beaten," said retired Archbishop Ramon Ovidio Perez Morales of Los Teques, a town just outside Caracas. "Their threatening tone, was to intimidate us."

The incident at the 23 de Enero parish is just one of several this year. The Catholic Herald reported a similar takeover at the San Pedro Claver church in Caracas, a protest outside of the home of Archbishop Antonio Lopez and an attack on a group of seminarians who were stripped and beaten in Merida. 

"These are not isolated incidents" Perez Morales said in Spanish. He believes they are likely a part of a systematic campaign to weaken the church.

Late last year, Diosdado Cabelloa powerful leader of the Venezuelan socialist government, claimed the Vatican's meddling was a threat to the country's sovereignty.

Local 10 News Andrea Torres contributed to this report.