A guest post by Asombra:
A recent post taken from another blog asks “Why are some disappointed by the Pope’s visit to Cuba?” and discusses what its author considers to be the three main reasons:
1) Benedict XVI is not as effective a communicator as John Paul II was
2) Benedict didn’t meet with the opposition or denounce ongoing repression during his visit
3) Cardinal Ortega’s actions clouded the visit even before it started
In my view, there are several other important reasons why a great many were much more than disappointed:
The pope met with Fidel Castro, his presumed wife and their three sons for 30 minutes. This was not required by protocol, since Fidel is officially retired from government. The Ladies in White, among other dissident or opposition figures, had pleaded beforehand to have even just one minute with the pope, to no avail. I have read accounts saying the pope was the one who asked to see Fidel (who came to the papal embassy for the meeting). If that is true, it makes the matter look much worse, but even if it was the other way around, there is still a serious problem. It is virtually impossible to justify this meeting, especially since it was guaranteed to offend, insult and scandalize many if not most Cubans, who see the old tyrant as the chief author of Cuba’s ruin and the suffering of millions for generations.
The official church stance, repeatedly stated by its functionaries, was that the visit was pastoral and not political, a convenient retort to the insistent calls for engagement with the opposition. However, the pope publicly condemned the US embargo (although about a week before the visit, the Vatican spokesman had said it was not foreseen that the pope would do that). One cannot have it both ways, and trying to do so is not considered reputable or respectable.
The Vatican publicly acknowledged that the pope was invited by the Castro dictatorship (meaning it wanted the visit) and that the regime essentially set the conditions, which the Vatican accepted and observed. Regardless of what the Vatican hoped or expected to gain, it still gave the regime something the latter found desirable and useful for its purposes, on the regime’s terms, which qualifies as collaboration or cooperation with it. What the Catholic Church winds up getting remains to be seen, and there is always the question of whether the price was worth it. There is no question, though, that the regime is not contemplating political change (read democracy), only economic changes necessary to maintain its “model” (read totalitarian power), as explicitly stated during the pope’s stay by a high government official.
The wishes and concerns of exiled Cubans, who could freely speak their minds and did so before the papal visit took place, were effectively ignored or dismissed, as if they were irrelevant or insignificant. One could posit that the Vatican naturally went with what the Cuban Catholic hierarchy advised or wanted, but that hierarchy is headed by a highly controversial figure profoundly mistrusted by many Cubans, on and off the island, due to repeatedly dubious behavior which many suspect could be based on blackmail by the Castro apparatus, an expert at covert surveillance.
In other words, the list of negatives for the papal visit is fairly long and rather serious. Even if certain things can be said to be a matter of perspective, opinion or religious orientation (all Cubans are not Catholics, let alone committed Catholics), this visit is unquestionably questionable, on multiple levels and for multiple reasons. It does not help that the previous papal visit, by a far more esteemed pope, was and remains questionable and disappointing.
Finally, it can (and has) been said that a pope could not do in three days what Cubans have been unable to do in 53 years. Nobody doubts that. Nobody expected otherwise (though some might have with John Paul II). However, what could quite reasonably be expected is that a papal visit would do no harm and give no offense to a people sick of broken promises, dashed hopes and betrayed expectations, even if the pope could not fix or change much. Unfortunately, harm was most probably done, and offense was most certainly given. The Vatican may still believe this visit was worthwhile, but the question remains: was the papal visit supposed to satisfy the Catholic hierarchy or the Cuban people?