CARACAS -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez described as "immoral" Venezuelan Cardinal Jorge Urosa and said that "he ought to take off his cassock and go into politics," while rejecting the prelate's criticism of the constitutional amendment being promoted by his government to allow unlimited re-election.
"If Christ should appear here in flesh and blood he would lash Urosa, he would throw him out of the church because he is immoral and cares nothing about ethics or his priesthood," the socialist Chavez said.
According to a communique from the presidential palace, Chavez made the statement on Friday while talking over the phone with the nighttime opinion program "Contra Golpe" (Counterpunch), aired by the state channel Venezolana de Television, or VTV.
Urosa has said that "unlimited re-election (of the president) has never been successful in Venezuela," and that the National Assembly - dominated by Chavez's PSUV party - at the request of the president, plans to establish it by means of a constitutional amendment expected to be submitted to a popular referendum in February 2009.
The Catholic hierarchy has agreed with the opposition argument that the amendment will be illegal because the matter of presidential re-election was included in the wide-ranging constitutional overhaul proposal presented by Chavez in 2007 and rejected by the electorate at the polls.
"There is no violation of the Constitution and he (Urosa) knows it . . . it's regrettable that a leader of the church, using his position, is lying in an attempt at manipulation. He knows that the reform presented a year ago is very different from the amendment being presented now," the head of state said.
The amendment proposal for unlimited presidential re-election will be approved in the second legislative debate by the National Assembly's ruling-party majority, and Chavez expects electoral authorities to submit it to a popular referendum in February 2009.
The Venezuelan president accuses the Catholic hierarchy of behaving like activists of the opposition, and regularly uses a variety of epithets in referring to church leaders.