The tipping point between the extreme and the unbelievable is easily blurred. The stated intentions of the mouthpieces of radical Islam, as we discussed this week on this blog, provide a prime example. Do they really mean what they say: "The destruction of Israel" and "the killing of infidels?" When we are not alert, the ridiculous has a way of warping into the surreal. It’s called complacency, and it feels good for a while.
South of our southeast border, not far off Miami’s coast, the outrageous is now the norm. The government of President Hugo Chavez rules Venezuela with an iron fist, often wrapped in velvet. The bellicose ramblings of Mr. Chavez sound so ridiculous and come so frequently there’s a danger of thinking they are unreal or unimportant.
Sometimes it takes blood to make us think again.
Here’s the background:
In January I ventured down to South America on behalf of FOX News to report on a religious event in Barquisimeto, Venezuela, that gathered, according to the organizers, over 2,000,000 people. While the government did its best to masquerade the event with a plethora of support, there was no hiding the tense relationship between the Catholic Church and Mr. Chavez. The symbolism was clear. These same masses of people would be willing to defend their faith if the government were someday to put it in peril. As the religious representatives of 98% of the population, the bishops of Venezuela have stood up, time and time again in defense of human rights and in opposition to those who would abuse them.
At the closing mass, Cardinal Lara had this to say:
“A government that was elected democratically seven years ago, has lost its democratic course and presents a face of dictatorship, where all of the powers of government are practically in the hands of a single person, who exercises them arbitrarily and despotically.”
Months have passed and we tend to forget. But this week there was blood, and we think again. It came in the form of the brutal killing of the sub-secretary of the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference, Father Jorge Piñango. As the principle organizer of the January event, just three months ago he graciously welcomed me and the FOX News team and made our work possible. He was on the front lines and he knew it.
On Friday of last week he went missing. Three days later he was found dead in a hotel room: his head beaten, body abused, and ultimately suffocated with a pillow.
Mr. Chavez gave orders for a speedy news conference where the government’s lawyer, Isaías Rodríguez, discredited the victim, his family, and the Church he served. According to their account, the priest was a willing partner in an inappropriate relationship that simply went sour. The next day, after eye witnesses sheepishly contradicted the government’s account, the same attorney went back to the stand to say, “What I said yesterday was at least 90% correct.”
The Episcopal Conference called their own press conference and unabashedly challenged the government to act with transparent justice. They wondered out loud why nobody outside the government has been privy to the collected evidence or the steps of the supposed investigation. In a second press conference, they called to task Mr. Rodríguez for the false statements he had made and denounced as unprofessional and disrespectful the conclusions drawn.
I don’t know the whole story behind Father Piñango’s death. Sadly, I may never know. We may never know. When all the powers of state are in the hands of one man who exercises them arbitrarily and despotically, the truth itself is out of reach.
We need to stay alert. Transparent justice is a treasure. It keeps the ridiculous from warping into the surreal and unimportant.
Stories like this are a reminder to thank God for democracy and to protect it with valor. While we may not see present danger of despotic rule on this side of the border, the temptation to blind partisanship leads in the same direction. Am I more Republican or Democratic than American? Am I wiling to sacrifice truth and justice for an electoral advantage or a verbal slam?
If you are interested, I’ll keep you informed of the progress of this case as another litmus test for Venezuelan justice. And as always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
God bless, Father Jonathan
P.S. For more information on what we discovered during our trip to Venezuela, take a look back at some of my first blog entries:
From Venezuela | Tense Relationship | Divine Intervention
Write to Father Jonathan at firstname.lastname@example.org.