The Roman Catholic Church in Venezuela on Wednesday accused the leftist government of President Nicolas Maduro of seeking to impose a "totalitarian government," blaming it for the protests shaking the country.
Monsignor Diego Padron, the president of the conference of bishops, denounced the abuse of force, torture of detained protesters, and the persecution of opposition mayors and lawmakers.
"The government is mistaken in wanting to resolve the crisis by force. Repression is not the way to go," he said.
The protests were caused, he said, by "the attempt by the official party and the authorities of the Republic to install the so-called Plan of the Fatherland, behind which hides the imposition of a totalitarian government."
The scathing assessment follows suggestions that the Vatican act as mediator in a dialogue between the government and the opposition after nearly two months of unrest that have left at least 39 dead.
Padron expressed support for Vatican mediation in a future "sincere dialogue," and the government also has indicated it would be willing to engage in such talks.
But Caracas Archbishop Jorge Urosa Savino said the Vatican has not received official notice from the government inviting it to take part in a dialogue.
Speaking at a news conference, Padron expressed regret over the country's deepening polarization.
The crisis is "extremely serious both for its magnitude (...) as well as for its duration, violence and the disastrous consequences for our present and our future."