Pope Benedict was always on the far right of the unofficial Vatican ideological divide - remember, back when he was just Cardinal Ratzinger he led the department that had evolved out of the Inquisition. His latest remarks are a harsh reminder of just how completely the reactionary elements of the Catholic hierarchy have swung the church away from the ...ahem... aborted progressive leanings of Vatican II in the sixties.
Chavez's criticism of the Pope's statements will doubtlessly be hyped as a breathless fire-breathing radical's attack on the Pope, but in fact it's fairly mild and considered.
It is more than a little disturbing that a religious leader in the 21st century is justifying, even lauding, a policy of forced conversion, minimizing the moral nightmare of slavery, torture and murder, and in effect suggesting the victims of cultural genocide should be thanking their tormentors. The theological thinking only implied in Mel Gibson's anti-Mayan polemic Apocalypto with it's final shot of Spanish Galleons come to rescue the poor natives out of darkness is front and center in the Pope's remarks.
Chavez, who regularly clashes with the Catholic Church in Venezuela but had not directly criticized the Pope before, accused the Pontiff on Friday of ignoring the "holocaust" that followed Christopher Columbus's 1492 landing in the Americas.
"With all due respect your Holiness, apologize because there was a real genocide here and, if we were to deny it, we would be denying our very selves," Chavez said at an event on freedom of expression.
While the consequences of the church doctrine (Not - I hasten to add - just Catholic) of enforced assimilation can still be seen in living survivors of Canada's residency school kidnap factories - and similar programs all over the world - Pope Benedict chooses justification and minimization over any real attempt at reconciliation.