While many Catholics think Pope Francis is the greatest thing since sliced bread, many others (myself included) are perplexed by not only the blindness the pontiff suffers from when it comes to violent repression in Cuba, but also to the apparent fondness he has for the tyrannical dictatorship that ruthlessly and godlessly rules the most repressive nation in the Western Hemisphere.
Our Man – in Havana?
The meeting between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis on Friday in Havana was a pivotal moment in relations between Western and Eastern Christianity. It’s also the culmination of decades-long efforts to get Europe to “breathe with both lungs,” as St. John Paul II said. And in several respects, it owes a great deal to particular qualities of Pope Francis, for both good and ill.
Francis’s public persona gets much praise, and criticism (on this page, as elsewhere) from people who think he’s confusing and is putting crucial Catholic doctrines in jeopardy. Both charges are correct – sometimes – but there’s more to the story. He has a gift for bringing people together – yes, not always with the necessary clarity or caution. But in this instance, he mostly did very well. With one serious misstep, of which more below.
The meeting probably would have been harder to arrange if the pope were a Western European. JPII, a Pole, knew the Slavic world well. Benedict XVI profoundly understood the theological differences between East and West. Both made overtures towards the Orthodox. But a Latin American pope made things less starkly East/West.
It’s worth reading the Joint Declaration that was signed in Cuba. It starts by strongly regretting millennium-old divisions within the Church, which Christ Himself prayed would be one, as He and the Father are one. And adopts a fraternal tone – something even factions within Catholicism and Orthodoxy don’t always use towards one another – seeking closer relations and common action.
[T]hat’s why it’s puzzling that this document was signed in Havana. I’ve been to Cuba and don’t recognize it here:
Our fraternal meeting has taken place in Cuba, at the crossroads of North and South, East and West. It is from this island, the symbol of the hopes of the “New World” and the dramatic events of the history of the twentieth century, that we address our words to all the peoples of Latin America and of the other continents. It is a source of joy that the Christian faith is growing here in a dynamic way. . .
Cuba, the world’s “ crossroads”? “Symbol of hopes”? Dynamic Christian growth? To be frank, these are lies – and a scandal. We’re hearing that a large Russian Orthodox church will be built in Cuba though few orthodox live there. This is Potemkin-village stuff. For a half-century, Cuba has denied building permits to Catholics, Baptists, Evangelicals, and others. It’s stubbornly Communist, one of those “aggressive secularist” ideologies pope and patriarch deplore.
In addition to political repression, religious protesters like the Ladies in White are routinely jailed. Oswaldo Payá, the Catholic founder of the Christian Liberation Movement, was killed in a “car accident” just four years ago. He’s not the only one.
Francis surely knows all this, yet went out of his way to praise Cuba, publicly telling Raul Castro Friday that “if it continues this way, Cuba will be the capital of unity.” Silly us. We thought that was Rome.
It’s regrettable to have to bring up political ugliness in this otherwise historic religious context. But as Orwell once said: “In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia.”
To make progress on religious persecution, we need truth – the whole truth. The Joint Declaration notes Christianity’s return to public life in Russia. But Russia’s longtime ally Cuba is another thing entirely. Why praise a Cold War dinosaur and religious persecutor in both the Joint Declaration and the event? Mr. Putin may have wanted that. But why did Francis, ignoring plain fact, join in?
Read the entire piece HERE.