Vatican calls on Venezuela to suspend constitutional assembly

In a statement released on Friday, the Vatican called on the Government of Nicolas Maduro to consider the "avoidance or suspension of ongoing initiatives such as the new constitutional assembly," which would give the president the power to re-write the constitution and govern by decree. The Holy See also asked for the security forces to abstain from "excessive and disproportionate use of violence."

ROME — In a statement released on Friday, the Vatican is asking for Venezuela’s constitutional assembly to be suspended, which President Nicolas Maduro was expected to confirm today, after a fraudulent election on Sunday allegedly gave him popular support to do so.

“The Holy See asks all the political actors, and particularly the Government, to guarantee the full respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as the current Constitution,” the statement said, calling also for “the avoidance or suspension of ongoing initiatives such as the new constitutional assembly that, more than favoring reconciliation and peace, promote a climate of tension and confrontation and mortgage the future.”

Although the Vatican has recently spoken very strongly about the Venezuelan crisis, with Pope Francis’s top diplomat telling Crux back in May that elections are the only way out of the crisis, this is the first time the Holy See has openly challenged the constitutional assembly.

Traditionally, on such complex, local matters, the Vatican defers to the local Catholic hierarchy. In the case of Venezuela, the bishops have been openly against the assembly. If set into motion, it would allow Maduro to re-write the constitution and also govern through decrees.

Last Sunday, when elections were taking place, the Twitter account of the Venezuelan bishops’ conference sent out a prayer asking the Virgin Mary to free the country from the “claws of communism and socialism.”

RELATED: Venezuela’s bishops reject vote to rewrite national constitution

Some two weeks before, on the other hand, when the country came together to vote in a a symbolic referendum organized by the opposition to reject  Maduro’s attempts at re-writing the country’s constitution, the bishops strongly supported the referendum, even though, legally speaking, it had no standing.

RELATED: Venezuelan bishops join the people in protest vote against Maduro

In the statement released by the Vatican’s press office on Friday soon after noon Rome time, the Holy See also expressed its “profound concern” over the radicalization of the country’s crisis.

Pope Francis, the statement said, is following “closely” the situation and its “humanitarian, social, political, economic and even spiritual consequences.

“The Holy See manifests once again its profound concern over the radicalization and worsening of the crisis in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, for the growing death toll, the wounded and detainees,” the statement says. An estimated 130 people have been killed since protests against the assembly began last April.

It comes only four days after opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and the former mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, were forcibly taken from their homes by security forces. Ledezma was freed on Friday, according to his wife’s Twitter account, and is back in his home, under house arrest.

The message, signed by the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, also said that Francis is praying for the country and is asking “the faithful from around the world to pray fervently for this intention.”

The statement closes with an “urgent call” to Venezuelan society to end the violence, “inviting, in particular, the security forces to abstain from excessive and disproportionate use of violence.”

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