Oct. 27, 2005: CubanoAmericana de Noticias.

Cardinal Bertone-Cuba: The Shepherd "Blesses" the Wolf

*An enigmatic continuity of the politics of the extended hand, on the part of the Vatican and of high-level ecclesiastical figures, has been displayed toward the tyrant of the Caribbean during the course of more than three decades. It goes back to the period in which Archbishop Agostino Casaroli, at that time secretary of the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church, stated during a visit to Cuba that the Catholics of the island were happy.

* It is painful, particularly for the faithful Cuban Catholics, to see a Shepherd go out to meet the Wolf, and subsequently to praise it almost as if were an innocent Lamb.

By Armando F. Valladares

Former Cuban political prisoner for twenty-two years, was American ambassador before the Human Rights Commission of the UN in Geneva, during the administrations of Reagan and Bush. He is the author of the book-testimonial Contra toda esperanza [Against Every Hope], where he relates his life in Castro’s jails.

1. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Archbishop of Genoa, visited the island-prison of Cuba this past October 3-10, during which he had an interview of two hours with the Communist dictator Fidel Castro, to whom he extended a "special" greeting of His Holiness Benedict XVI. Participating in that historic interview was his secretary, Msgr. Stefano Olivastri, and the Nuncio, Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi. Cardinal Bertone interviewed also senior officials of the regime, such as Caridad Diego, head of Religious Affairs of the Communist Party of Cuba, and Esteban Lazo, head of the Department of Ideology of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba; he maintained high-level ecclesiastical contacts; he visited the diocese of Santa Clara, where he accompanied two Italian priests who will exercise functions in that diocese; and he received members of the Italian community San Egidio, which adheres to the theology of liberation and which has received a green light from the regime to engage in activities in Cuba.

2. International agencies and newspapers attributed to the cardinal of Genoa various statements in which he praises the bloodthirsty dictator, something that is incomprehensible if one considers his Communist ideology, which was characterized as "intrinsically evil" by traditional documents of the popes of the twentieth century, which did he not renounce and about which he continues to boast.

On his return to Genoa, Cardinal Bertone called a press conference to give details of his interview with Castro, which was attended by representatives of the leading newspapers of Italy and of the most important international news agencies. In the course of the same interview, the cardinal said that "the Church in Cuba is viewed with respect by the government" and that "Castro himself manifested great appreciation for the Church"; he expressed his conviction that in the dictator "respect for religion has grown"; and he affirmed, against all evidence, that in the island-prison "already the opening is total."

Cardinal Bertone’s comments praising the dictator did not end there. He emphasized what to him seemed to be interpreted as a "notable lucidity" of the tyrant when he analyzed the international "energy crisis"; he praised his "insistence" on the "duty" of "cultivating the civilization of solidarity," of the "need to help the poor and disinherited" and to "promote human development"; adding that in this respect the tyrant "has not failed to give good example," "sending aid" to various counties, and that the antecedents "are themes very much in the heart of Castro." As if the dictator were not the one directly responsible for the terrible poverty prevailing in Cuba; for the most complete psychological, physical, and moral degradation of entire generations, the fruit of an enslaving internal embargo; for the export of bloody revolutions in Latin America and Africa; in short, for his supporting for almost half a century of a Communist anti-civilization that was characterized as the "shame of our time" by the Congregation for the Doctrine the Faith, of which Cardinal Bertone was a secretary for seven years.

3. Castro, in turn, according to the cardinal’s version of events, after praising the deceased John Paul II, would have extolled his successor, Benedict XVI, stating that "he has the face of a good angel," and adding: "I say this and confirm this, because I am a specialist in physiognomies." Castro, besides, would have received "in silence," under the guise of a humble appearance, the "blessing" of the cardinal who, impressed with what would be the most intimate dispositions of the dictator, exclaimed: "I believe that in Castro there is increased openness to listening to God". . . . As if the dictator on repeated occasions had not shown theatrical gifts, having in 1959 descended from the Sierra Maestra with a rosary and a medal of the Virgin of Charity around his neck, to obtain the support of Catholics; and in 1998, on saying good-bye to John Paul II, in the airport of Havana, going so far as to feign the shedding of tears, sufficient enough to lead some to interpret the event as a beginning of conversion. . .

4. A separate comment is merited regarding the "aid" that Castro would have requested of the Church in order to fight the "plague" of abortion, presented by the cardinal as a "consequence of sexual tourism" and constituting for him a "shame, an accusation that should be made with a loud voice." In reality, the "plague" of abortion in communist Cuba is substantially the consequence of a system that by its Communist ideology favors sexual promiscuity from the earliest adolescence. For having denounced the massive practice of abortions in Cuba, Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet remains a prisoner; and for refusing to continue doing experiments with fetuses, after her conversion to Catholicism, the notable neurosurgeon Dr. Hilda Molina is prohibited from leaving Cuba. Sadly, in favor of both, one has not heard as of the present any "loud accusation" from the high-ranking Italian prelate.

Cardinal Bertone, mentioned as "papabile" in the days following the death of John Paul II, added that Cuba-Vatican relations "have never been interrupted and that is very significant"; even in the most difficult moments "the dialogue continued," which would be "very important" because dialogue "bears fruits, as is now seen."

Presumably in order not to cloud that climate of "dialogue" with the Castro tyranny, the archbishop of Genoa "excused himself from expressing an opinion on the situation relating to human rights," minimizing this very serious theme, with an air of naturalness, suggesting that "all countries have their problems." Those statements were emphasized, with satisfaction, by the newspaper Granma, organ of the Communist Party of Cuba. It does not appear that in his visit of one week to Cuba the cardinal had prepared his agenda for having contact with members of the opposition and of non-governmental organizations, various among them being Catholic lay people, like the economist Martha Beatriz Roque and the "Damas de Blanco", wives of political prisoners who daily risk their lives to peacefully work for freedom in Cuba.

5. It is not known if by an oversight, or for another reason, Cardinal Bertone revealed something that contradicts the supposed good dispositions of the dictator: the latter told him in confidence that he continues being "faithful" to the same ideas he has always held . . . That is to say, to Communism as a fateful ideology, and to its strategy of making apostates and not martyrs in the Catholic flock, a strategy that he outlined in a speech at the University of Havana in the decade of the 1960s and that he continues applying until today: "We will not fall into the historic error of sowing the path with Christian martyrs, for we well know that it was precisely martyrdom that gave force to the Church. We will make apostates, thousands of apostates. . . ."

A week after the visit of the cardinal to Cuba, the bishop of Holguín, in the east of the island, saw the need for denouncing dramatically the fact that "aggressions against Catholics" of his diocese "persist and increase in their violence" (Catholic Agency Zenit, Oct. 17, 2005), something that contradicts the illusion of "total opening" that the cardinal archbishop of Genoa believed he saw in the former Pearl of the Antilles.

6. All the above is without a doubt painful, especially for the faithful Cuban Catholics who see a Shepherd going to meet with the Wolf, and subsequently praising it almost as if it were an innocent Lamb.

Nevertheless, sadly, these are not novelties, neither the distorted compliments of a cardinal to Castro, nor the cynical allegations of respect and admiration for the Church by the tyrant. For example, this is what was heard, from the mouth of the dictator, before and after his encounter with John Paul II, in Rome, in November of 1996, and from the visit of the pontiff to Cuba, in January of 1998.

Because of this, I dare to say that the above is not the most serious.

7. In reality, what is most serious is the enigmatic continuity of the politics of the extended hand of the Vatican and of high ecclesiastical figures of diverse countries toward the tyrant of the Caribbean, during more than three decades, which went back to the era in which Archbishop Agostino Casaroli, then secretary of the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church, affirmed in a visit to Cuba that the Catholics of the island were happy; which went through so many lamentable episodes played out by high-ranking clergymen of diverse countries, which I had the occasion to describe in previous articles; and which reaches all the way to John Paul II, when last January 8, upon receiving the diplomatic credentials of the new ambassador of Cuba before the Holy See, offered a recognition of diverse aspects of the Communist revolution which placed Cuban Catholics in an unprecedented spiritual crossroads (cf. among others articles, that include abundant documentation, "John Paul II, Cuba and a Dilemma of Conscience," Jan. 15, 2005; "The Cuban Drama and the Vatican Silence," April 25, 2003; "Cardinal Sodano and Fidel Castro: The Shepherd Goes Out to Aid the Wolf," May 11, 2003; "The Request for Pardon That Was Not Made: The Ecclesiastical Collaboration with Communism," March 22, 2000; "UN: Vatican Representative Favors Castro Dictatorship," October 26, 2000; "Yes, the Communist State Persecuted and Persecutes Cuban Catholics," August 9, 1998 [on the eve of the trip of John Paul II to Cuba]; "With Cuban Communism, a ‘Frank Dialogue' Impossible," March 4, 1998; "Fraudulent ‘Religious Policy" of Dictator Castro," November 16, 1996, the day of the arrival of the dictator Castro to Rome, published in the DIARIO LAS AMÉRICAS, of Miami, in the dates indicated).

8. It is difficult, not to say impossible, to suppose that Cardinal Bertone traveled to Cuba without the knowledge of the Office of the Vatican Secretary of State, and even of His Holiness Benedict XVI himself, judging from the information of the press, not contradicted up to the present, that the archbishop of Genoa was a bearer of a "special" greeting of the Pontiff to the dictator.

9. I know well, as a Catholic and as a former Cuban political prisoner, who spent twenty-two years imprisoned in the Castro dungeons, and saw my faith fortified upon hearing the shouts of Catholic youths who lived in the "thick wall," proclaiming, "Long live Christ the King, down with Communism!," how many perplexities, anguishes and interior dramas are created in the consciences of Cubans by this diplomatic attitude of the Holy See and of high prelates of diverse countries, relating to Communist Cuba. It is a situation among the most painful that can exist, because they concern their bonds with the Holy See and with the Church. Nevertheless, as I have already had occasion to declare, the faith of Catholics should remain intact and even fortified in the face of this dilemma, because in political and diplomatic matters not even the popes are assisted with infallibility. For this reason, faithful Catholics, along with reaffirming their unconditional obedience to the Church and to the papacy in the terms established by canon law, and declaring all the devotion due to the Chair of Peter, have the right and even the duty to resist accepting a specific diplomatic orientation, to the degree to which this disagrees with the line traditionally adopted by the Church in relation to Communism.

10. References: Granma International, Havana, Oct. 12, 2005; Avvenire, Roma, Oct. 12 & 13, 2005; La Stampa, Turin, Oct. 13, 2005; Associated Press, AFP & Ansa, Oct. 13, 2005; Zenit Agency, Rome, Oct. 14, 2005.

Armando F. Valladares, former Cuban political prisoner for twenty-two years, was American ambassador before the Human Rights Commission of the UN, Geneva, during the Reagan and Bush administrations; he is author of the testimonial book Contra toda esperanza (Against Every Hope), where he relates his life in the Castro jails.


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