CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has called for an investigation into Catholic priests he says have made comments critical of the government.

Maduro said in an address Monday that church officials may have committed hate crimes, an accusation he frequently levels at government critics.

He called on the pro-government chief prosecutor and Supreme Court to investigate.

Venezuela sits atop the world’s largest oil reserves but is enduring an economic crisis after nearly two decades of socialist rule.

Maduro didn’t directly name any priests.

The newspaper El National, however, said he alluded to Bishop Victor Hugo Basabe of San Felipe recently praying for the liberation of Venezuela from the “corrupt plague” that sees “thousands of Venezuelans digging through the trash looking for garbage to satisfy their hunger.”

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Basabe added that he never thought the country would see the day when Venezuelans would have to leave their homeland “looking to be welcomed, protected, and integrated into societies often hostile to their presence.”

The bishop also noted that thousands of children in the country are now suffering from malnutrition due to the actions of the government.

The newspaper also said another prelate, Bishop Antonio Lopez Castillo of Barquisimeto, drew cheers from thousands at a Mass when he asked that Venezuela be saved from corruption.

Crux staff contributed to this report.