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Cablegate: Holy See Urges Church to Promote Venezuelan

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 VATICAN 005607

SIPDIS

FOR EUR/WE

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/19/2012
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM VT PGOV PHUM VT VE VEPREL
SUBJECT: HOLY SEE URGES CHURCH TO PROMOTE VENEZUELAN
DIALOGUE, AVOID POLITICAL ACTIVISM

REF: A. A) CARACAS 3281 B) CARACAS 3415

B. C) POWELL/FROWICK EMAIL 11/12/02

CLASSIFIED BY: AMB. JIM NICHOLSON, REASON E.O. 12958 1.5 (B,D)

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SUMMARY
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1. (C) THE HOLY SEE IS CONCERNED ABOUT THE PROSPECT OF CIVIL
VIOLENCE IN VENEZUELA IN THE COMING MONTHS, AND THE POPE
HIMSELF HAS URGED THE VENEZUELAN BISHOPS TO "COOL IT" ON
POLITICAL ACTIVISM AND INSTEAD TO ENCOURAGE DIALOGUE. THE
HOLY SEE VIEWED THE BISHOPS' OCTOBER LETTER ENCOURAGING
DIALOGUE, READ IN VENEZUELAN CHURCHES, AS A POSITIVE STEP.
HOLY SEE DIRECTOR OF CARIBBEAN AFFAIRS MSGR. GIORGIO LINGUA
WAS NOT AWARE THAT THE VENEZUELAN CHURCH WAS FACILITATING
POLITICAL DIALOGUE IN ANY WAY OTHER THAN BY PROVIDING A VENUE
FOR TALKS. HE SAID THE HOLY SEE HOPES VENEZUELANS WILL
REFRAIN FROM DANGEROUS STREET PROTESTS AND AN INCONCLUSIVE
CONSULTATIVE REFERENDUM, AND INSTEAD MAKE FULL USE OF THE
TIME TO PREPARE FOR A CONSTITUTIONAL RECALL REFERENDUM IN
AUGUST. IN LIGHT OF CONTINUED SUPPORT FOR CHAVEZ AMONG THE
VENEZUELAN POPULATION, LINGUA WAS NOT SANGUINE ABOUT THE
OPPOSITION'S CHANCES OF SUCCESS, EVEN IF THEY CONCENTRATE
FULLY ON ORGANIZING FOR AN AUGUST RECALL REFERENDUM. LINGUA
ACKNOWLEDGED THAT CARDINAL ARCHBISHOP VELASCO GARCIA OF
CARACAS HAD BEEN TOO CLOSE TO THE COUP PLOTTERS LAST APRIL.
FORMER VENEZUELAN AMBASSADOR QUINTANA TOLD AMBASSADOR
NOVEMBER 18 HE FEARED A VIOLENT DENOUEMENT IN VENEZUELA. END
SUMMARY

---------------------------
LOWERING THE CHURCH PROFILE
---------------------------

2. (C) POLOFFS MET WITH HOLY SEE DIRECTOR FOR CARIBBEAN
AFFAIRS MSGR. GIORGIO LINGUA NOVEMBER 7 AND AGAIN NOVEMBER 14
TO DISCUSS THE CATHOLIC CHURCH'S VIEWS OF THE DEVELOPING
CIVIL CONFRONTATION IN VENEZUELA. LINGUA SAID HE WAS WORRIED
ABOUT THE DETERIORATION OF THE POLITICAL SITUATION, AND
INDICATED THAT THE HOLY SEE HAD COUNSELED THE VENEZUELAN
CHURCH TO BACK OFF FROM WHAT HAD BEEN AN OVERLY VISIBLE
PRESENCE DURING THE APRIL 2002 ATTEMPTED COUP. LINGUA TOLD
US THAT WHEN THE VENEZUELAN BISHOPS MADE THEIR "AD LIMINA"
VISIT TO REPORT TO THE POPE IN JUNE OF THIS YEAR (NOTE: THESE
OCCUR ON A REGULAR SCHEDULE, ROUGHLY EVERY FIVE YEARS), THE
POPE HAD TOLD THEM TO "COOL IT" ON THEIR POLITICAL ACTIVISM.
LINGUA, SMILING, THOUGHT THE MESSAGE FROM THE POPE "MIGHT NOT
HAVE SUNK IN." HE ADMITTED THAT CARDINAL ARCHBISHOP VELASCO
GARCIA OF CARACAS WAS PERHAPS TOO CLOSE TO THE COUP PLOTTERS,
AND DEMONSTRATED POOR JUDGMENT IN PARTICIPATING IN THE
CARMONA "INAUGURATION CEREMONY."

3. (C) THE HOLY SEE WOULD PREFER THAT THE VENEZUELAN CHURCH
NOT ENGAGE IN THE POLITICAL PROCESS DIRECTLY, BUT RATHER SEEK
TO STIMULATE A PEACEFUL DIALOGUE BETWEEN VENEZUELA'S
POLITICAL ELEMENTS. TO THAT END, THE HOLY SEE, THROUGH ITS
NUNCIO, HAD WORKED WITH THE VENEZUELAN BISHOPS CONFERENCE TO
DRAFT A LETTER READ OCTOBER 20 FROM ALL VENEZUELAN PULPITS.
LINGUA SHOWED US A SPANISH LANGUAGE TEXT OF THIS LETTER AND
SAID IT WAS A CONSTRUCTIVE STEP. THE LETTER MADE AN
"ANGUISHED APPEAL" TO THE PEOPLE TO OVERCOME THE MOUNTING
TENSIONS IN THE NATION AND CALLED FOR A PEACEFUL SOLUTION.
THE BISHOPS REAFFIRMED "THE IMPERATIVE TO AVOID ALL VIOLENCE,
WITH ITS FATAL CONSEQUENCES, AND TO TAKE POSITIVE STEPS
TOWARD UNDERSTANDING AND AGREEMENTS THAT WILL MAKE
COEXISTENCE POSSIBLE." AT THE SAME TIME THE LETTER EMPHASIZED
THAT "THERE IS A RIGHT TO GIVE ONE'S OPINION, TO ASSOCIATE,
AND TO PROTEST FREELY," AND REMINDED PARISHIONERS THAT IT WAS
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE GOVERNMENT TO ENSURE PUBLIC
SECURITY AND ORDER.

4. (C) ASKED ABOUT THE POLITICAL ROAD AHEAD, LINGUA SAID
THE HOLY SEE HOPES VENEZUELANS WILL REFRAIN FROM DANGEROUS
STREET PROTESTS AND AN INCONCLUSIVE CONSULTATIVE REFERENDUM,
AND INSTEAD MAKE FULL USE OF THE TIME TO PREPARE FOR A
CONSTITUTIONAL RECALL REFERENDUM IN AUGUST. POINTING OUT
THAT CHAVEZ STILL ENJOYS CONSIDERABLE, THOUGH ERODING,
POPULAR SUPPORT, LINGUA WAS NOT SANGUINE ABOUT THE
OPPOSITION'S CHANCES OF SUCCESS, EVEN IF IT CONCENTRATES
FULLY ON ORGANIZING FOR AN AUGUST RECALL REFERENDUM.

---------------------------------
FACILITATING DIALOGUE BUT NO MORE
---------------------------------

5. (C) AFTER RECEIVING REF B, WHICH INDICATED A CHURCH ROLE
IN FACILITATING VENEZUELA'S POLITICAL DIALOGUE IN CONJUNCTION
WITH OAS ENVOY GAVIRIA, WE CHECKED WITH LINGUA AGAIN TO SEE
WHETHER THE HOLY SEE HAD CHANGED ITS APPROACH SINCE OUR
PREVIOUS MEETING, AND WHETHER THIS NEW ROLE INDICATED THAWING
RELATIONS BETWEEN THE CHURCH AND PRESIDENT CHAVEZ. LINGUA
DOWNPLAYED THE EXTENT OF THE CHURCH'S ROLE, INDICATING IT HAD
ONLY PROVIDED A MEETING SPACE AND HAD NOT MEDIATED ANY OF THE
DISCUSSIONS. AT ANY RATE, HE SAID, THE MEETING SPACE AT THE
SEMINARY OUTSIDE OF CARACAS PRESENTED LOGISTICAL
DIFFICULTIES, AND SO THE PARTICIPANTS WOULD NO LONGER MEET
THERE. HE EXPRESSED SOME SATISFACTION THAT CHAVEZ HAD AGREED
TO USE THAT FACILITY, BUT INSISTED THAT CHURCH/GOV RELATIONS
WERE "NO BETTER AND NO WORSE THAN IN APRIL" (I.E. PRETTY
BAD). HE INDICATED THAT CHAVEZ GOONS CONTINUE TO HARASS SOME
CLERGY, BUT AS YET NONE HAD BEEN PHYSICALLY HARMED. HAVING
SAID THAT, HE BACKTRACKED A BIT FROM HIS EARLIER INSISTENCE
ON A HANDS-OFF ROLE FOR THE CHURCH, AND SAID THE HOLY SEE
WOULD SUPPORT A FORMAL CHURCH ROLE IN FACILITATING POLITICAL
DIALOGUE, "ONLY IF BOTH SIDES FORMALLY REQUEST IT."

6. (C) WE MENTIONED TO LINGUA POLLING DATA THAT INDICATED A
MAJORITY OF VENEZUELANS THOUGHT THE CHURCH COULD INDEED PLAY
A FACILITATING ROLE. HE WAS SURPRISED, ADMITTING THE HOLY
SEE BELIEVES IT HAS ALMOST NO SUPPORT AMONG VENEZUELAN POOR.
HOWEVER, HE SAID THE HOLY SEE WOULD STICK WITH ITS ORIGINAL
ANALYSIS -- POLITICAL ORGANIZING SHOULD FOCUS ON A
CONSTITUTIONAL RECALL REFERENDUM FOR AUGUST NEXT YEAR. IN
THE MEANTIME, CHAVEZ' SUPPORT CONTINUES TO ERODE, AND THE
MORE HE DEMONSTRATES HE CAN'T DELIVER, THE MORE HIS
POPULARITY WILL SLIP. ASKED WHETHER THE NUNCIO MAINTAINS A
REGULAR DIALOGUE WITH THE OPPOSITION, LINGUA SAID NO MORE
THAN HE HAS WITH ANY OTHER ELEMENT OF VENEZUELAN SOCIETY.

7. (C) AT A LUNCH WITH AMBASSADOR, NOVEMBER 18, FORMER
VENEZUELAN AMBASSADOR (AND FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE)
IGNACIO QUINTANA EXPRESSED FEARS THAT CONDITIONS WOULD
CONTINUE TO DETERIORATE IN VENEZUELA. QUINTANA SAID HE
THOUGHT THAT CHAVEZ WOULD EVENTUALLY BE TAKEN OUT BY A COUP.
IN RESPONSE TO AMBASSADOR'S QUERY WHETHER BLOOD WOULD BE
SHED, QUINTANA SAID "YES, UNFORTUNATELY."

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COMMENT
-------

8. (C) THE HOLY SEE FINDS ITSELF IN AN UNCOMFORTABLE
SITUATION VIS-A-VIS VENEZUELA. CLEARLY, THE CATHOLIC
CHURCH'S RELATIONS WITH POPULIST PRESIDENT CHAVEZ ARE POOR
AND RISK GETTING WORSE. THE HOLY SEE, WHICH RETAINS VIVID
INSTITUTIONAL MEMORIES OF LEFTIST SUPPRESSION OF CLERGY IN
SPAIN AND MEXICO, WOULD NEVER WISH TO SEE RELATIONS
DETERIORATE TO THE POINT WHERE THE CLERGY AND THE FAITHFUL
WERE AT RISK OF PHYSICAL HARM. NONETHELESS, THE HOLY SEE
WOULD JUST AS CLEARLY PREFER TO SEE CHURCH/STATE RELATIONS IN
VENEZUELA RETURN TO THE SITUATION THAT EXISTED IN THE
PRE-CHAVEZ ERA. LINGUA WAS ACUTELY AWARE OF IRONY OF THE
CHURCH'S LACK OF SUPPORT AMONG THE POORER CLASSES IN
VENEZUELA -- AND OF CHAVEZ' PUBLIC ACCUSATION LAST JANUARY
THAT THE CHURCH WAS A "CANCER ON VENEZUELAN SOCIETY" BECAUSE
OF ITS ASSOCIATION WITH THE "OLIGARCHS." RECALLING THAT
CHAVEZ' OUTBURST WAS IN RESPONSE TO THE PAPAL NUNCIO'S ANNUAL
GREETING ON BEHALF OF THE DIPLOMATIC CORPS, LINGUA ONLY
HALF-JOKINGLY SAID THE HOLY SEE WAS WORRIED ABOUT WHAT
REACTIONS WOULD BE TO WHAT THE NUNCIO WOULD SAY THIS COMING
JANUARY.

9. (C) COMMENT CONTINUED: THE CONTINUED ACTIVISM OF THE
VENEZUELAN CLERGY IN THE FACE OF THE POPE'S CAUTION DOES NOT
SURPRISE US. EVEN THE POPE HAS LIMITED SWAY OVER WHAT A
BISHOP DOES IN HIS OWN DIOCESE, UNLESS HIS POLITICAL
ACTIVITIES DIRECTLY THREATEN THE DOCTRINE AND MORALS OF THE
CATHOLIC CHURCH OR THE HOLY SEE'S FOREIGN POLICY. WE WOULD
WELCOME EMBASSY CARACAS'S ASSESSMENT OF HOW RESPONSIVE TO THE
POPE'S INSTRUCTIONS THE VENEZUELAN BISHOPS HAVE BEEN. FROM
WHERE WE SIT, THEIR OCTOBER 20 LETTER TO PARISHIONERS SEEMS
AN EFFORT TO MEET THE POPE AT LEAST HALFWAY.
NICHOLSON

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