Officials from President Hugo Chavez's leftist administration and members of Venezuela's Catholic bishops conference met on Tuesday in this capital with the aim of ending the acrimony that has characterized their relationship until now.
"We've come to express our intention, beyond the disagreements that there have been between both institutions over these 13 years (of Chavez's tenure), to reestablish a climate of institutional respect and also of political and personal respect," said Vice President Elias Jaua after the meeting.
The chairman of the bishops conference, Monsignor Diego Padron, added at the joint press conference with Jaua that the meeting provided the framework for "the search for a relationship that will be more respectful and that will always move in institutional channels."
During the appearance before reporters, Padron used Jaua's telephone to talk with Chavez and he was heard to greet the president and promise to meet with him soon.
"I want to publicly express my gratitude for the president's kindness in calling at this time to verify what was said by the vice president regarding the search for a respectful relationship through institutional channels. That he called means that he places great importance on this meeting," the prelate said.
"We hope that this relationship keeps normalizing itself ... (and) one of the things we have mutually dealt with is (the need to) take care of this new institutional channel that we have opened ... (and) the guarantee" not to damage it again because "each (party) occupies the role that corresponds to it in society," Jaua said.
Although grandiloquent declarations have come intermittently from both sides since the beginning of Chavez's governance in February 1999, the relationship between church and state threatened to rupture completely two years ago.
In July 2010, Chavez called the prelates "cave dwellers" after the bishops conference supported Cardinal Jorge Urosa, who accused the president of violating the constitution and intending to install a "communist dictatorship" in Venezuela.
Chavez at the time announced that he would dedicate his life to criticizing Urosa and ordered the review of an agreement dating to 1964 whereby the Venezuelan state granted privileges to the Catholic Church above and beyond other religions and committed state resources to finance social works and Catholic educational projects.
The matter ultimately came to nothing, however, and on April 27 the government delivered about $294 million to a network of Catholic high schools. EFE