Embarrassment / From Voices 14 / Luis Cino

ALTHOUGH I AM a lapsed Catholic — a Catholic “my way,” as are almost all Cubans who claim to be one — I never denied it, in the time when the churches were closed or almost empty and the “tell me about your life” questionnaires had that famous question about whether you had religious beliefs. And I don’t regret it. Because, in these moments I feel I have the total right to say, unequivocally, that the attitude of the Cuban Catholic Church embarrasses me.

I can’t feel anything else after the — it was more than an authorization — the cardinal’s invitation, for  State Security troops to enter the Church of Our Lady of Charity in Central Havana, and forcibly evict the thirteen dissidents — half of them women and old men — who occupied the temple for more than two days.

In reality, it wasn’t a surprise. After the Archbishop’s statement that seemed to have been written by a functionary from internal order in some prison, and specifically destined for the newspaper Granma and National Television News, we all expected a repressive outcome.

But it didn’t necessarily have to be that way. There are many ways to negotiate. I don’t believe the occupants were more rigid and intolerant and than the representatives of the regime. And look how well Cardinal Ortega ultimately arranged to deal with them.

But the Church hierarchy doesn’t have much patience or willingness to deal with dissidents. At least, that’s what Bishop Emilio Aranguren demonstrated over the last few days in forcing out, with screams and shoves, another group of dissidents in the Church of San Isidro in Hoguin. He warned that if they didn’t leave he would come with his people to evict them.

And it’s not that the priests shouldn’t be energetic when the time comes to respect the temples. But they shouldn’t exaggerate. Why, and to whom did Bishop Aranguren refer when he warned he would use “their people,” and “his people” to dislodge the dissidents. Perhaps the Church now has its own rapid response brigade?

Still and all, a priest who looks like a sheriff is preferable, as is the possibility of a para-police band of the pious and the charlatans, before inviting the political police to enter the temples to drag out a handful of peaceful people who just want their demands to be heard. Because that is what it was about, no matter how Cardinal Ortega’s spokesman, Orlando Marquez, claimed in a communication from the Archbishop that it was about “a strategy prepared and coordinate in advance to create critical situations” during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit. Or is that Orlando Marquez has at his disposal information about this, supplied to him by the comrades from State Security?

Those of us who consider these to be sites solely to pray to the Lord and for holy rites, and that they must be respected, do not approve of the method of occupying the temples. But far more insulting than the presence in the temple of those who mistake it as a stage for their protests, is the arrival of a police force, as disarmed as they say they may be. That Cardinal Ortega has invited them is even worse.

The Cuban Catholic hierarchy, and in particular Cardinal Jaime Ortega, is guilty of the gulf that has been created between the church and not just opponents, but most Cubans who aspire to live in freedom and who have no institutional spaces in which to express their demands. He is guilty, because he hypocritically and unilaterally takes on a mediation with the regime without defining what is proposed and for what purpose, creating expectations that he now does not know how to fill, much less have the courage to do so.

Will the Church be contented if the regime allows it to open seminaries, returns some of its confiscated property, authorizes a religious holiday and, from time to time, gives the Cardinal a few minutes on radio and television?

Should we not expect the Church to protect those who have no bread, the weak and the persecuted? Or is that, in Cuba, its social function will be limited to offering a little charity, giving courses for the self-employed, blessing the Economic and Social Guidelines of the Communist Party, and offering Masses for the health of Hugo Chavez?

Would they rather prefer the Church to cultivate good relations with the regime rather than with its long-suffering faithful?

Before a repeat of the occupation of another temple, or worse, it would be better if the Catholic hierarchy left hypocrisy aside and clearly defined where it is going and what it wants. And stop making (bad) policy. Or at least say for whom it makes it. To let it be known, once and for all — without any confusion — that it cannot be counted on for the cause of freedom.
the cause of freedom.
the cause of freedom.
the cause of freedom.
the cause of freedom.
the cause of freedom.

Luis Cino is an independent journalist and blogger in Cuba.

This article is on page 24 of the Cuban independent magazine Voices 14, published 23 March 2012, in Havana, Cuba.