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CARACAS, Venezuela (CNS) -- A series of attacks and confrontations against Catholics in Venezuela has marked a renewed deterioration of relations between the church and the national government. Some church leaders have openly speculated that the events could form part of a broader, coordinated campaign.
"These are not isolated events and sometimes we even ask ourselves to what extent this is a systematic campaign," said retired Archbishop Ramon Ovidio Perez Morales of Los Teques, a town just outside of Caracas.
At San Pedro Claver church in Caracas in late January, a pro-government collective crashed Sunday Mass and shouted insults at Father Angel Tornero before closing the doors, standing up near the altar, and prohibiting parishioners from leaving while further criticizing the local priest.
Collectives are pro-government groups that organize community events and social projects, but they also have been accused of intimidation and violence against those who oppose the government.
"They started to shout insults, then would be calm, and then they would shout again," said Maria Cisneros, who has attended the church for 20 years. She requested her name be changed for this story out of fear of retaliation.
"These were aggressive people, with aggressive vocabulary, using profanity, and they said all kinds of vulgarities; we felt very attacked," she said.