Fidel Castro and the Catholic Church

by Servando Gonzalez

Copyright © 1999. All rights reserved.


Since the beginning of his struggle against Batista, the Catholic Church became Castro's staunchest ally. A large number of Catholics and many priests became active members of the M- 26-7. Fray Guillermo Sardiñas was one of the first Catholic priests to climb the Sierra Maestra and join the guerrilla and becoming, with the authorization of the bishop of Havana, chaplain of Fidel's Rebel Army. Another priest, Father Chelala, became treasurer to the M-26-7 in Holguín. The Movement's national treasurer, Enrique Canto, was a leading Catholic.

Even at the time when the American public opinion was outraged by the killing of prisoners on the wall, Father Ignacio Biaín, editor of La Quincena, the leading Church magazine, justified Castro's revolutionary tribunals.
By the end of 1959, though most Catholics had begun to feel uneasy about Castro, Father Biaín kept praising the revolution in the pages of his journal. Since the beginning of the guerrilla war against Batista, La Quincena had adopted a strong anti-Batista posture. It is known that the auxiliary bishop of Havana was a supporter of Castro and that most of the Catholic secular clergy opposed Batista.

By mid 1960, however, the relations between Castro and the Cuban Church had turned into mutual hostility. On the other hand, it is worth noticing that the Castro government never broke diplomatic relations with the Vatican, and there was never any thought of breaking diplomatic relations on either side. Luis Amado-Blanco, a devout practicing Catholic, was for long years the Cuban Ambassador to the Holy See, and was the only "Communist" diplomat present throughout the Ecumenical Council sessions.

Monsignor Cesare Zacchi, for more than ten years the Papal nuncio in Havana, was known to be very close to Castro and other Cuban leaders. Zacchi went to the point of urging Cuban Catholics to participate in voluntary work and join the official organizations and unions. He also advised young Catholics to participate in the revolutionary process as members of the Communist Youth, and he seized the opportunity to emphasize the need for a greater liberalization of the Church.

Castro and Zacchi had a very close friendship that went far beyond diplomatic courtesy. It is known that they frequently went scuba-diving together, and that Castro frequently invited him to private parties. Some say that, while Castro was wining and dining his close friend, anti-Castro Catholics were being shot at the wall after shouting "Long live Christ the King!" The Vatican, perhaps as a recognition for Zacchi's good job in Cuba, ordained him bishop in 1967. As expected, Fidel made an official visit to the Nunciate to celebrate the occasion with his friend.

Contrasting with the Mexican revolution, where the revolutionaries were anticlerical as well as antireligious, Fidel Castro is a pragmatical politician who, in principle, is not against any particular ideology. He doesn't care much about what people think or what they are. He opposes only the ones who, for any reason, are against him. While Mexican revolutionaries were in conflict with the Catholic Church, Castro has never been against the Church, just against some priests, and only for political reasons.

Herbert Matthews rightly wrote that he has never seen or heard Castro do or say anything against religionan astonishing fact Matthews considered one of the aberrant characteristics of Castro's communism. According to Matthews, Castro expelled about a hundred and forty Spanish priests from Cuba in 1960-1961, but just for political, not religious reasons.
4 Save for a few mean actions during the very first years, the truth is that Castro has taken more measures against the Jehovah's Witness than against the Catholic Church. Accordingly, the Vatican's attitude towards Castro has always been either friendly or non-confrontational.

The attitude of the Catholic Church toward Castro gives us some clues about the true ideology of Castroism. The Church, so militantly anticommunist, has shown an extraordinary love for Fascist regimes. For example, Pope Pius XII, who was notoriously silent regarding the fate of the Jews and was eager to avoid any confrontation with the Nazis, jumped to applaud and praise the Führer when he latter moved against the "godless communists" in Russia. Like many of his contemporaries, the Pope believed that the Allies were fighting the wrong enemy. When the Nazidebacle began, high ranking Roman Catholic Church officials ensured the survival of thousands of Nazi war criminals by providing them passports, safe houses, and transport out of Europe, mainly to Latin America.

The Catholic Church friendliness to escaping Nazi war criminals is in sharp contrast with its attitude towards escaping victims of Castro. Dr. Ana Rodríguez, a physician who spent long years as a political prisoner in Castro's prisons, wrote a book after leaving the Island, Diary of a Survivor (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995), in which she tells a revealing story.

On one occasion, she and two other women managed to escape from one of Castro's concentration camps for political prisoners. After two months in the hiding, terrorized by the massive police manhunt and lacking food and shelter, they decided to approach the Catholic Church. They visited the Habana archdioceses and explained their desperate situation to Archbishop Mons. Fernando Azcárate and asked him for help. "Get out of here immediately!", yelled an angry Azcárate. "You are outlaws that have escaped from justice! Get out of here before I do my citizen's duty and call the police!" So much for human sensitivity at the Cuban Catholic Church.

In the mid-eighties Castro began a carefully planned process of rapprochement with the Catholic Church, which culminated
with the Pope's visit to Cuba in 1998.
In February, 1983, Castro was invited to participate in the Cuban Episcopal Conference meeting, in which he told the bishops, "I am prepared to help the process of rapprochement between the Church and State in Cuba as much as possible." In 1985 Castro was visited in Havana by a delegation of the U.S. Roman Catholic bishops. According to his biographer Tad Szulc, Castro had a marvelous time dazzling the mesmerized bishops with this familiarity with theology and liturgy. On March 13th, 1998, Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston stated in a speech that, in the last years, Fidel Castro has been a promoter, rather than an obstacle to freedom of religion in Cuba. Coming from such an important figure in the Catholic hierarchy, such a statement gives an idea of how far the process of accommodation between Castro and some rebel factions in the Catholic Church has advanced.

A careful reading of Castro's long interview with Frei Betto, a disinformation exercise published under the title Fidel y la religión, now translated into several languages, shows in detail Castro's view that he and the rebel factions in the Catholic Church have many points of agreement. If one is to believe Castro, Church missionaries, like Castro's internationalists, are fighters against poverty. Like the Church, Castro claims, he has chosen the option of the poor. He firmly believes that "if the Church were to create a state in line with those principles, it would organize a state like ours." Recent events, and the evident change in attitude of the Vatican towards Castro, indicate that, at least to some extent, they agree with the Cuban tyrant.

So, has Castro managed to fool the rebel faction inside the Catholic Church? Most likely not, but it seems that they have plans to turn Castro into a puppet and use him to reach their goals. But, as the Soviets and many others found the hard way, every one who has tried to use Castro has ended up being used by him.

Responding to criticism for the lack of democratic freedoms in Cuba, Castro has answered by claiming that, on the contrary, the regime he has imposed upon the Cuban people is an example of true democracy. One can wonder, then, if the "democracy" Castro choose to create in Cuba was modelled after the Jesuit's idea of democracy within the Order.
Contrary to Jesuit claims, Liberation Theology is not Marxist-, much less Leninist- inspired. Liberation Theology is Castroism in disguise, that is, fascism of the left. No wonder Fidel Castro is rapidly becoming the de facto Pope of the rebel faction
inside the Catholic Church, and Havana is the new place of pilgrimage for liberation theologists.

Of lately, more than a year after the Pope visited Cuba in 1998, the relations between the Castro government and the Catholic Church are reaching new heights. In December 1998, the Political Bureau of Castro's "Communist" Party published a declaration stating that Cuba may wellbecome a social laboratory for a sui generis experiment on the convergence of communism and catholicism, which would bring to life again the seemingly forgotten dreams of liberation theologists.

Among the new apologists of Castro is Cardinal Jaime Ortega, Havana's Archbishop, and Mons. Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, Vicar of the Archidiocesis of Havana. Both Ortega and Céspedes seize every occasion to propagandize the achievements of
the Castroist revolution in matters of public education, public health and social justice. Most Cuban Catholics, however, seem to disagree with their religious leaders' idyllic vision of things in Castro's Cuba.

At a Sunday Mass the day before he was assassinated, Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador made an emotional appeal to the government: "The Church, defender of the rights of God, of the law of God, and of the dignity of each human being, cannot remain silent in the presence of such abominations."

Unfortunately, the Cuban Church has remained silent in the presence of Castro's abominations, and Cuban Catholics are still waiting for their own Archbishop Romero to appear. It seems, however, that they are going to wait for a long time. For some unexplained reason, the Catholic Church's revolutionaries, who cannot remain silent in the presence of abominations committed by the Right, prefer to remain silent before abominations committed by the Fascist Left.

The attitude of the pro-Castro faction of the Cuban Catholic Church exposes in its stark nakedness the hypocrisy of the Liberation Theologists and their followers. Allegedly, they are opposed to a Catholic Church as the religion of the landowners and the wealthy, and they prefer to exert the "option of the poor." But in Cuba, where a small group of wealthy landowners have pushed most of the people into poverty, instead of exerting the option of the poor they have chosen to protect the interests of the landowners and the wealthy, that is, Castro and his cronies. It seems that the more the Catholic Church tries to change, the more it remains the same.