Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Silence of the Shepherd

The white-robed ex-Hitler Youth -- who was a none-too-youthful 17 when he belonged to its cadres -- surely knows something about party discipline and organization, and we dare say that the pontifex maximus owes something also to the Nazi minimus, or to be less controversial but still say the same thing: the boy is the father of the man. So when Benedict XVI stood in front of the Castros' re-creation of a Nuremberg rally, orquestrated as meticulously as any propaganda spectacle ever staged for the greater glory of the Third Reich, Joseph Ratzinger must have thought for a moment that he was again that wide-eyed youth caught in a surrealist dream where the Aryan masses wore blackface, Hitler had squinty eyes and he himself was a very old man.

The German pope came to Cuba to consort with the mighty and to reconcile the powerless to their lot. He offered his imprimatur to tyranny and received the homage of tyranny in return. With effigies of Camilo Cienfuegos and "Che" Guevara in place of John and Paul, and at the feet of the statue of a pure man who once observed that "Christianity died at the hands of Catholicism," Benedict XVI did not speak about human rights or human wrongs; but rendered to Caesar what belonged to Caesar, which was everything except what the Church claimed for its portion at the banquet of tyrants. If dissidents had anything to offer the pope other than their heroic virtue, he would have tolerated their presence or lamented their absence. But there was nothing that they could do for him except to help him recover his humanity and the pope had not yet named a patron saint for that lost cause.

Coddling a superannuated tyrant as a beloved prodigal son (though this "prodigal" has not and will never return "home") while refusing to acknowledge Cuba's living saints and martyrs, Benedict gave Nero his blessing to keep the gates open to the Coliseum. The pope did make one small request of Raúl Castro in exchange -- that Good Friday be reinstated as a public holiday in Cuba (as if every day were not Good Friday in Cuba!). The legalization, in 1998, of the observance of Christmas, more than 30 years after it was officially abolished, was the one tangible achievement of John Paul II's visit to the island. For Cubans, the meaning of Good Friday is closer to their experience than the meaning of Christmas: they know all about suffering but have scant knowledge of the promise of salvation and renewal held forth by Christ's birth, but not by Christ's Vicar.

Catholicism as a religion is dead in Cuba. Whatever popular elements may still survive are to be found outside the Church and are specifically condemned by it. Benedict XVI's visit has not infused the Church with new life (this miracle would be beyond the power of even holier men); but it has shown the paucity of its spiritual life and its inability to appeal to the masses. With only 5 percent of the population as active communicants (and that is the Church's own hopeful estimate) there are fewer professing Catholics at this time than at any other since the arrival of Columbus. Not even when the pyre was its chief means of recruitment were the numbers of the baptized fewer. It is as if the entire nation had given Hatuey's reply to the cross wielded by hypocrites in the service of ruffians. Still, the Catholic Church has not survived two thousand years by adhering to the belief that the meek shall inherit the earth, but by attaching itself to the powerful, in all ages, so long as they upheld the Church's temporal interests and did not extend their authority at its expense. Otherwise, no ally was deemed too despicable and no compromise too onerous that guaranteed Peter's mite.

The conduct of the Catholic Church in Cuba -- and elsewhere, of course, though it is Cuba that immediately concerns us -- has always been venal and self-serving; but in Cuba's case, it has also been distinguished by a maniacal aversion to liberty and democracy which placed it always at the side of Cuba's oppressors. During our 19th century wars of independence, the Catholic Church actively sided with Spain, from the parish priest who broke the seal of the confessional to denounce patriots to the authorities, to the pope himself, then Pius IX, who gave his apostolic blessing to the Spanish troops sent to Cuba to "pacify" the island. This "Second Colonization" resulted in the deaths of more than 500,000 Cubans (a third of the population), not rebels, but their wives, children and other non-combatants, who died of disease and starvation in the world's first concentration camps.

After the defeat of the Spaniards, the Catholic Church, the largest landholder and landlord in Cuba, allied itself with the forces of intervention, lobbying secretly for the annexation of the island to the U.S., because it believed that its interests would be safer in American hands, its disdain for Protestants being somewhat less than its contempt for Cubans. Despite its fears -- grounded in a consciousness of the wrongs it had committed against the Cuban people -- the Catholic Church was never the object of persecution in an independent Cuba, as it was in Mexico in the 1920s and Spain in the 1930s. On the contrary, it flourished and expanded, as Cuba became the preferred refuge for persecuted clergy from Spain's Civil War, as well as for more than one million Spaniards. If ever a people embodied the spirit of Christian charity, it was surely these orphaned sons who saved the children of their parents' killers.

It was not until 1959, when the Jesuit-educated Fidel Castro, whose life had been saved by the Church in the aftermath of the Moncada attack, seized power in Cuba that the Catholic Church's own power, position and patrimony were diminished to the point of irrelevance by the confiscation of ecclesiastical lands, schools, hospitals, newspapers and radio stations. The Church itself might have been suppressed altogether if not for the abject submission of its hierarchy, which in recent times, under the leadership of Jaime Cardinal Ortega, has embraced as its means of resurgence a symbiotic relationship with the State. Since the inception of Castroism, the Catholic Church has devoted itself to the task of recovering five centuries of spoils, and this it may very well do. What it can never recover, however, is its moral authority, because among Cubans it never merited any.


Vana said...


Iam speechless after reading your rendition of the Pope's visit, the best I've read.

I was hoping for your input on this subject, you have not let me down, that same contempt you were feeling during the three ring circus was the same I experienced.

When I saw him holding Castros hands I almost vomited, again I felt defeated in realizing how alone we Cubans are, none to speak for us just ourselves.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...


Thank-you for your kind words. With the exception of Carlos Alberto Montaner's twisted rationalizations of the pope's unchristian conduct, the response of Cuban bloggers on this occasion did them credit.

I was especially impressed by Babalú's coverage of the pope's visit to Cuba. The old pieties were abandoned and the genuflections to the powerful. For once, it was not the Cuban people who were excoriated for their supposed timidity in the face of tyranny, but the tyrants themselves and their mitred accomplices who were exposed as the real cowards.

There is reason to hope and less reason to despair.

Vana said...


After the inhumane and cruel treatment we have recieved through the ages, you yourself list them here, after fifty three years of tyranny vested upon those poor unfortunate in that God forsaken island, you have reason to hope?

Please my friend tell me where it is you see hope, while I continue to despair.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...


When I wrote that last hopeful line, I meant that the unanimous negative reaction of Cuban bloggers to the pope's trip augured well for the future.

But you have always been able to tell what I mean beneath the surface even when it is not immediately apparent to me. Yes, there is also reason to hope that the eternal night that hangs over Cuba, which seemed darkest during those three days that saw the marriage, officiated by the pope, of the Cuban Communist Party and the Catholic Church, may yet prove the pall that announces a new dawn for our country.

So what if our country's two superannuated institutions, after a concubinage of more than half a century, decided at last to formalize their relations before our country and the world? Individually or together they are the same thing. When they fall, as fall they will, it won't matter whether singly or in tandem.

Every day, every hour, every minute brings Cuba closer to her deliverance. The generation that brought tyranny to our land will soon be extinct. They have done their worst, our country is in ruins and our people are in agony, but both will survive their predations, because if Hitler could not do it in Germany, and Stalin could not do it in Russia, neither shall their heirs in Cuba extinguish life or civilization in our country.

It is the tyrants in whom corruption is real, visible and unremitting, whose days are numbered, not our country's. No compact with the devil will extend their lives beyond the days of man. Not all the dark forces of the earth combined can purchase one more day for them than what they have been allotted.

The future does not belong to them.

If God is willing, we will be a part of that future; and if not, it will come anyway. That satisfaction at least is ours.