Venezuela Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's habit of verbally attacking his enemies appears to have backfired in his dealings with one of the country's most prestigious institutions - a Catholic church critical of the president.
Even as he clashed in recent days with King Juan Carlos of Spain and President Alvaro Uribe from neighboring Colombia, the populist Chavez and top government officials were unleashing the worst crisis in church-state relations in decades.
Chavez threatened reprisals - and even prison - against Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino as church officials publicly criticized constitutional revisions proposed by the president - and to be approved or rejected in a Sunday referendum - as "morally unacceptable."
In a speech televised to this predominantly Catholic country, Chavez branded Urosa Savino as "a thug," "stupid," "mentally retarded," "sycophant" and defender of "dark interests."
But rather than shying away from confrontation with a popular and powerful president, the church fired back. "Let them jail the cardinal and we'll see what happens in this country. ... They are not going to shut us up with actions of that type," Monsignor Ovidio Perez Morales, president of the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference, said this week.