Cardinal Accuses Venezuelan President of Autocracy

An outspoken cardinal's comments have aroused the ire of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who was accused of running a dictatorship.

On Sunday, retired Cardinal Rosalio Castillo Lara's words were published in an interview for the El Universal newspaper. He said that the Chavez administration "has seized control of all branches of government" in Venuezuela.

Because Castillo is retired, he cannot speak officially for the Venezualan Roman Catholic Church. However his position as Cardinal makes him the highest-ranking member of the local church.

The president replied in a Monday press release that anyone who thinks his government is becoming a tyranny is "crazy enough to be tied up or just ignorant (and ) doesn't know what's happening in Venezuela."

The cardinal alleged that a "true democracy" did not exist in the nation, accusing the President of trying to lead to the oil-rich nation to become like communist Cuba.

In the past, Chavez, has told his supporters that Jesus Christ was a "socialist" and "anti-imperialist," according to AP, asserting that his government was following the teachings of Christ by spending the oil rich nation's wealth to help the poor.

Despite the verbal sparring, recent opinion polls show that Chavez has the support of a majority of Venezuelans. His government has been able to fund free health care and low cost education programs for the poor, according to Reuters.

Chavez denounced Castillo of being possessed, a "bandit" who "has the devil inside him," according to AP.

In the interview Cardinal Castillo said, "There is no democracy or rule of law here. What we have is just the appearance of democracy" with "laws against the Constitution approved by a weak majority."

Although Catholic leaders had kept a low profile for months, the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference has recently renewed its criticism of the government.

Since becoming President in 1999, Chavez has often disagreed with the Catholic leadership. More than 90 percent of the population in Venezuela is Roman Catholic and the church there wields great influence over many citizens, according to AP.