Pope calls for greater freedom for Catholic Church in Venezuela

Vatican City - Pope Benedict XVI Thursday hoped that "current difficulties" between the Catholic Church and the Venezuelan government "are solved," and insisted that the former needs greater "freedom to meet its mission," EFE reported.

His comments came in his address to the new Venezuelan Ambassador to the Vatican City, Iván Rincón Urdaneta, who Thursday submitted his credentials to the Pope.

Benedict XVI made reference to a speech the late John Paul II delivered before the Diplomatic Corps at the Holy See last January. Karol Wojtyla ensured back then that "you should not be afraid that fair religious freedom may curtail other freedoms or undermine civil coexistence."

"I want to make these words mine and lively hope that the hardships currently hindering the Church-State relations may be overcome, and a prolific cooperation may be resumed, in accordance with the noble Venezuelan tradition," Benedict XVI said.

He insisted that the Catholic "Church needs freedom to meet its mission, choose its priests and guide the faithful," adding that "the governments of the States should not be afraid of the actions of the Church," as it only intends "to fulfill its religious purposes."

Relations between senior Catholic leaders and Hugo Chávez' administration have been tense since he was a presidential candidate in 1998. Things worsened following the events of April 11, 2002, when the Venezuelan ruler was briefly removed from power.

Back in 2002, the then top Catholic leader, the late Ignacio Cardinal Velasco, signed a decree drafted by de facto President Pedro Carmona to raze the Venezuelan democratic institutions.

Joseph Ratzinger reminded that the Catholic Church "proclaim forgiveness and reconciliation, which are the only way to achieve stable harmony."