Pope `isn`t God`s emissary on Earth`: Chavez

Catholic Church leaders accuse Venezuelan leader of becoming authoritarian.

Caracas: President Hugo Chavez announced that Venezuela would rethink its relations with the Vatican as tensions rise between his government and Catholic Church representatives who accuse the socialist leader of becoming increasingly authoritarian.

During a televised speech, Chavez instructed his foreign minister to "examine" relations with the Vatican. Without elaborating, he questioned the validity of an agreement giving the Catholic Church privileges that are not extended to other religious organisations in Venezuela.

Chavez also challenged the authority of Pope Benedict XVI, saying the pope "isn`t God`s emissary on Earth”.

There was no immediately reaction from the papal nuncio in Caracas.

Chavez and Venezuela`s Catholic Church are clashing like never before.

In recent weeks, Chavez has said that Christ would whip church leaders for suggesting that he`s steering Venezuela toward a Cuban-style Marxist dictatorship.

He also accused Cardinal Jorge Urosa of misleading the Vatican with warnings that Venezuela is drifting towards dictatorship.

Urosa has defended his decision to tell the Vatican that Chavez is curbing freedoms.

Chavez said Urosa represents the interests of "fascist, extreme right-wing" elites and accused the clergy of siding with opposition parties ahead of September Legislative Elections.

Priests critical of his government "are trying to manipulate the people”, Chavez said.