Thursday, December 08, 2016

Time now ripe for Church in Cuba to speak up

Chance to take initiativeThe death of Fidel Castro could embolden the Church in Cuba to take a more proactive role on the communist island in the years to come, reports the Religion News Service.

Even in his death, Castro defied the Church by requesting that his remains be cremated, a practice accepted but discouraged by the Vatican. But his death could now bolster its budding relationship with his brother, President Raúl Castro, said Enrique Pumar, head of the Sociology Department at Catholic University of America, who has studied the Church in Cuba.

“This is definitely an opportunity,” Mr Pumar said. “Raúl is going to be more open to the Church. But this is going to happen gradually. That’s the way change takes place in Cuba.”

Fidel Castro was schooled in an elite Jesuit school in Santiago de Cuba in the eastern part of the island and later attended the Jesuits-led Colegio de Belén in Havana.

Even the band of guerrillas he led in the 1950s weren’t all atheists. They had a chaplain, appointed by his bishop, to baptise babies born in the Sierra Maestra and to bury the dead revolutionaries, journalist and author Austen Ivereigh wrote recently in Crux.

“But as the revolution turned atheist and communist, and the clergy turned against it, in Fidel’s binary politics, the Church was an enemy of the revolution,” he wrote.

Critics, mainly Cuban-American exiles and within Cuba’s dissident community, denounced the Cuban church for appeasing a regime that routinely crushes dissent and continues to restrict the Church.

But those Church leaders had created just enough space for the Church to begin making changes from within the country, said Ted Henken, a Baruch College Latino studies professor and longtime Cuba scholar and author.

Five years ago, then-Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega negotiated the release of 126 political prisoners. Ortega, who stepped down as Cardinal this past northern summer, also helped broker the historic rapprochement between the USA and Cuba, which began in 2014.

Church leaders could now hope to reap further gains in a post-Fidel Cuba, Professor Henken said. “The Catholic Church has very wisely — politically, strategically — positioned itself for this day,” he said.

One area where the Church could push the government is to allow parochial schools in Cuba, because they are currently restricted by the regime, Mr Pumar said.

The Church could also take an active role in brokering discussions between civil society and State leaders, he said.

“A lot of people recognise this is not going to be settled on any battleground,” Mr Pumar said. “There has to be some form of conversation and negotiation.”

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