Last month, a Maracaibo priest named Vidal Atencio put Chávez on the altar…literally. Alongside the image of the comandante eterno he had pictures of the Libertador and Zulia State Governor Francisco Arias Cárdenas grace a special service in conmemoration of Journalist’s Day (June 27th).
The Maracaibo Archdiocese opened an internal investigation for the use of “unauthorized images during mass”. Father Atencio’s response was to accusse some of his collegues of being behind this “political persecution” against him. A letter allegedly sent by Maracaibo’s Archbishop Ubaldo Santana earlier this month to Atencio has made matters worse.
If you think this was an one-off incident, let me tell you a thing or two about Vidal Atencio…
The thing about him is that he’s not shy about expressing his political views. He defines himself in his Twitter account as a revolutionary and socialist priest. He isn’t just an outspoken Chavista, but also a local media figure (he’s now in charge of the local Chavista station, Coquivacoa TV) and a frequent guest on VTV and other State media outlets.
He likes to leverage his media profile to duke it out with the Catholic hierarchy, an institution not especially known for being chill with such things. He’s even decided to mix it up with Caracas Archbishop Cardinal Jorge Urosa, Venezuela’s top ranking priest. He’s sort of the mirror image of the super-oppo Archbishop of Coro, Roberto Lückert, who had some choice words about Atencio in a recent TV interview.
Thing is, father Vidal has political ambitions of his own: he wants to be Chavismo’s candidate for Mayor of Maracaibo and he was actively campaining for the primary election until such process was called off by Nicolás Maduro, who prefers to choose candidates by “consensus” (of the index-fingered type one suspects.)
If Atencio runs and beats incumbent mayor Eveling de Rosales on December 8th, he will have no choice but to abandon the priesthood, as both the Constitution and Eclesiastical law ban priests from elected office. He’s already said he’s ready to do so if needed.
Since the death of the late comandante supremo, we’ve witnessed the build-up of what we can call “the cult of Chávez”, from the airwaves to the public squares. Even Iran is making its own special contribution. Father Vidal completely supports it: during holy week, he called Chávez a saint, just not one “…to just light on a candle to remember him.”
Quite a guy…