Venezuela cardinal calls Chávez's proposed changes 'discriminatory'

Caracas, Venezuela - The leader of Venezuela's Roman Catholic Church on Sunday called President Hugo Chávez's constitutional reforms ''discriminatory,'' and warned the measures would violate civil liberties including religious freedom.

Cardinal Jorge Urosa said the 69 proposed amendments would undermine ''political pluralism'' by enshrining socialist principles in the constitution.

''Everything leads toward a single ideology and that, of course, is going to be discriminatory, it's going to be exclusionary and it's going to have terrible consequences for all liberties,'' Urosa told the Globovision TV network in Caracas.

''The religious aspect, which is fundamental for human beings, is also in danger in this reform,'' he said.

While statements were Urosa's strongest yet, the Vatican's top representative in this politically divided South American country stopped short of urging voters to reject the constitutional changes in a Dec. 2 referendum.

If approved, the amendments would give Chávez control over the Central Bank, create new types of collective property and allow authorities to detain citizens without charge during a state of emergency. They would also abolish presidential term limits, allowing Chávez to run again in 2012.

Chávez -- a close ally of Cuban leader Fidel Castro -- says the reforms promote his version of ''21st century socialism'' and do not threaten freedom. He railed last week against Urosa and other clergymen for suggesting otherwise.

''Don't be afraid of the dogs that come out to bark,'' Chávez told supporters. ``If Christ were still alive and physically present, I'm completely sure he'd take them out with whippings.''

Chávez has repeatedly clashed with Venezuela's Catholic leadership since he was first elected in 1998, lambasting church representatives as ''liars'' and ``perverts.''

Most Venezuelans are Roman Catholic and the church wields tremendous influence among parishioners, giving a particular sting to barbs exchanged between Chávez and high-ranking priests during this year's campaign for constitutional reform.