ROME – A Bolivian cardinal has drawn criticism for his open support of President Evo Morales at a political rally for the long-serving socialist leader.
Cardinal Toribio Ticona called on Catholics to support the indigenous leader on Monday, saying, “Moving forward, we must always go with President Evo Morales, not only do we have to speak, but we must all work [in favor of him].”
The prelate’s remarks caused concern among opposition leaders and also the local Catholic Church, which distanced itself from Ticona’s remarks.
Bolivia will have national elections this October, and Morales, who’s been president since 2006, will seek reelection.
Speaking about the upcoming poll, Ticona said “we must all work and go everywhere,” showing Morales’s “happy supporters” to the rest of Bolivia.
The Bolivian Bishops’ Conference issued a statement on Tuesday, saying that the public support the cardinal had given Morales was “personal” and doesn’t represent the position of the Catholic Church.
“Cardinal Toribio Ticona expressed an opinion that we consider at this moment as his opinion, which we respect and which a person can have, as any of us has a position,” said Bishop Eugenio Scarpellini during a press conference.
Scarpellini also said that the Church accompanies the electoral process as a “democratic space” where the country and the people “grow in democracy.”
“For us as a Church democracy is one of the important paths to live and apply justice [in favor] of the country’s growth,” he said.
The prelate also distinguished a statement made by the bishops’ conference, which he said they will soon release, from one made by an individual bishop, which is done “at a personal level.” The Church, Scarpellini said, does not “speak through Ticona.”
Ticona was created a cardinal by Pope Francis last year. When the pontiff announced his decision, rumors arose about him having a wife and children, which he quickly denied.
Ticona, 82, is the retired bishop of Corocoro, and he’s no stranger to politics.
He spent most of his priestly life ministering to and working alongside local miners in the small town of Chacarilla.
When he was ordained a priest in the 1960s, the town of 2,000 people had no local government structure, so Ticona served as mayor for 14 years, attending to local matters during the week and celebrating Mass on the weekends.
He was also a trade union leader and has mediated conflicts between miners and the military. He also served as a military chaplain.