Morales: Catholic leaders acting like 'Inquisition'

La Paz, Bolivia - Bolivian President Evo Morales on Tuesday said some members of the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy are behaving as if they were in "the times of the Inquisition" as he defended his government's plan to remove Catholicism as the sole religion taught in schools.

Morales comments came a day after Education Minister Felix Patzi referred to Catholic "monsignors" as "liars" and said they have been serving the oligarchy for the 514 years since Spain colonized the country.

"I want to ask the [church] hierarchies that they understand freedom of religion and beliefs in our country," Morales told reporters. "It's not possible to impose their views."

He said he was "worried by the behavior of some Catholic Church leaders who are acting like in times of the Inquisition."

Last month, Patzi proposed removing Catholic education from both public and private schools, including those run by religious groups. Faced with strong opposition from Bolivia's large Catholic population, he has since said that Catholicism will be taught alongside world religions, especially Bolivian Indian religions.

Many Catholics have expressed concern at the government's stance. One Catholic organization in the eastern city of Santa Cruz organized a street march Tuesday to defend the teaching of their religion in schools.

Bolivia's Cardinal Julio Terrazas told Catholics on Sunday to stop being "passive" and defend their faith.

"Great wars began with small theories ... with this discourse of hate, rancor, of unforgiveness," Terrazas said.

Recent polls show that roughly two-thirds of Bolivians consider themselves Catholic.

Patzi, sociologist and Aymara Indian, has said the government hopes to "decolonize" Bolivia's education system by knocking down "ethnic borders" that for more than 500 years have marginalized Indians.