Caracas: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez on Wednesday said that he wants friendly relations with Roman Catholic Church leaders he has clashed with in the past.
"Hopefully we can establish a good relationship with the Catholic hierarchy and work together for the country," Chavez said on state television. "The Church can contribute, along with the government, in the fight against poverty."
Church representatives sometimes have accused the socialist leader of becoming increasingly authoritarian and Chavez has strongly criticised Cardinal Jorge Urosa, saying he has misled the Vatican with warnings that Venezuela is drifting toward dictatorship.
Chavez spoke a day after Vice President Elias Jaua met with members of the Venezuelan Bishops` Conference.
The President wants "mutual respect" between the government and representatives of the conference, Jaua said.
Chavez often expresses his faith in Christ, whom he describes as a socialist. He has ired church leaders in the past by saying that Christ would whip them for suggesting that he`s steering Venezuela toward a Cuban-style Marxist dictatorship.
The President, who is seeking re-election on October 07, has also challenged the authority of Pope Benedict XVI, saying the pope "isn`t God`s emissary on Earth”.
Venezuela is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic and priests wield significant influence in the South American nation of about 28 million inhabitants.
Opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles met with church leaders on Wednesday.