In a Babalú exclusive, Yale professor and our good friend Dr. Carlos Eire analyzes a recent article in the Miami Herald by Juan Tamayo regarding the Catholic Church in Cuba and how it has learned to coexist with the brutal and murderous Castro dictatorship:
The Catholic Church’s long history of compromise
By Dr. Carlos Eire:
The Church has a long, long history of compromising with secular rulers because in its 2000 years of existence it has learned, over and over again, that whenever it goes up against secular rulers, it loses way too much. Since the church has no army, it can’t ever win against rulers with armies.
Case in point: Japan, 17th century. The church and thousands of recent converts, totally wiped out. Not a single one left, and all horribly tortured before being killed. They actually found ways of making crucifixion more horrifying. Another case: England, 16th-17th century: Catholics were wiped out after the pope excommunicated Queen Elizabeth. And every single priest captured by the English authorities went through this: first, they were hung by the neck, till they passed out; then, as soon as they regained consciousness, they were disemboweled; then they were tied by their arms and legs to four horses and ripped apart; then they were chopped up, and their heads stuck on a pike in some public location.
So, there is a long history of compromise and collaboration. Just a few examples:
The church could do nothing to stop our lovely ancestors from wiping out the native population of Cuba. Hatuey summed it up when he was asked to convert: if the Spanish went to heaven, then he’d prefer to go to hell.
It took the church way too long to condemn slavery, too.
The church could do nothing to stop the fascists in Italy or Germany. In Italy, it actually joined hands with Mussolini. In Germany, it remained silent. In Spain, it became a tool of Franco.
I’m not passing judgment, just making observations.
The behavior of the Cuban hierarchy doesn’t surprise me: it’s following an ancient pattern. Does it turn the other cheek, or a blind eye? I think it’s both, at once. The church tries to avoid violence at all costs, along with its destruction; sometimes, the costs are extraordinarily high for those who are the victims of violence and oppression. But, then, again, the Catholic Church has an ancient tradition that teaches that suffering is good for the soul, and martyrdom comes in many shapes and forms.
There are the saints, like Father Maximillian Kolbe, sent to Auschwitz for being too outspoken, who volunteered to take the place of a man condemned to death, and willingly suffered martyrdom by starvation.
But then there are genuine cretins who go a step further and cuddle tyrants simply because they love to rub shoulders with even bigger cretins. I would put Cardinal Ortega y Alamino in this category. He’s ideologically committed to the aims of communism. No doubt about it. And he seems to be working for the continuation of a weird hybrid: a one-party totalitarian state where the church is allowed to function and to beg for scraps from the rest of the world. All in the name of egalitarianism and liberation theology.
Benedict XVI — what’s his game? Hard to say. I think he is every bit as clever and as ethically pure as John Paul II, and that he is hoping to put a few more cracks in the foundation of Raul’s palace. But I think he underestimates the craftiness of the Castro brothers, and their close relationship with the devil. And he is surrounded by men at the Vatican who are even more clueless. He is a very old man, after all, and probably depends on others to fill him in on loose threads like Cuba. I’m taking a wait-and-see attitude towards his visit. He may actually pull off something remarkable. Then, again, he might make things worse for Cubans. You can never tell when the other party in the equation has the surname Castro.
By the way, my comment about the Castros and the devil is not to be taken metaphorically. I think the devil is real, and that Fidel and Raul work for him, and have his protection. If it were not so, would Cuba be the only instance in the history of communism where the church has become partners with the state?
On the Miami Herald article, the nit-picking professor can point out three things:
1. A giant error: “hostilities broke out one day before the Bay of Pigs assault in 1961, when Castro declared his revolution would follow the socialist path to communism.”
No way….. hostilities broke out long before that.
2. “Church leaders and activists began to come out of their shell in 1986, with a document issued at the end of a week-long gathering known as the National Cuban Church Encounter. Although it defended many of the church’s past policies, the document urged reconciliation and declared that socialism “helped us to have more regard for human beings … and showed us how to give, because of justice, what we used to give as charity.”
This is true. The Cuban church at some point sold out to liberation theology and chose to overlook many of the church’s other teachings on justice and fairness and actually twist the meaning of “justice” completely.
3. This is also true, but needs to be decoded: “The church is now a partner with Raúl in the search for a more productive, more effective system,” said Clark, “and creating a favorable atmosphere for a transition without violence.”
My decoding ring tells me: The church wants to maintain the status quo, rather than to foster any genuine transition. As far as I can tell, the only transition they’re looking at is the death of Fidel and Raul. “Without violence” means “without the exiles returning and without genuine democracy.”