Benedict XVI and the trip to Cuba by Cardinal Bertone

By Armando F. Valladares
The visit to communist Cuba by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, secretary of state for the Holy See, between the 21st and the 26th February caused unrest and outrage among Catholics on the island and in exile because of the diplomatic backing that his visit signifies to the Cuban regime, at a particularly delicate political juncture.
Before embarking for Cuba, in statements to the newspaper Avvenire, official organ the of Italian episcopate, Cardinal Bertone acknowledged that his trip was due to an invitation from the bishops on the island, as part of the commemorations of the 10th anniversary of John Paul II’s trip to Cuba, but that it was also the result of “a particularly warm invitation from the civil authorities”, in other words the current communists jailers. Additionally, the head of the Vatican diplomatic corps, shockingly said that “Cuba is proof that dialogue, if it is sincere, always bears fruit “, apparently forgetting the evangelical warning that a bad tree never yields good fruit (Matthew 7, 18). And he did not pass up the opportunity to commend Monsignor Cesare Zacchi -the apostolic nuncio during the early years of the communist revolution, notorious for his collaboration with the regime, who came to refer to Castro as “a man with deep Christians values”- who, according to Cardinal Bertone, “did so much”and “so successfully” to encourage relations between Havana and Rome (see Zenit, Feb.19, 2008).
The Cuban chancellor Perez Roque, who waited at the airport along with church and communist authorities, said cynically that he was receiving the high church official with “respect and hospitality”, and that the visit was the result of “excellent” relations between the regime and the Vatican.
It is understandable that the communist press has given some notoriety to his stay in Cuba, particularly his interview with the new dictator, Raul Castro, incredibly full of smiles and cordiality, evidencedby the photos published in the Cuban press. Castro, despite being, along with his brother, one of the greatest oppressors and torturers of the regime during half a century, received wishes from the Vatican envoy for “success” on a “mission” that, according to the Cardinal, the new dictator will exercise “in the service of his country.” Not lacking on the part of Cardinal Bertone, were emphatic statements against the American embargo, seemingly forgetting that the cause of the problem is the ruthless internal embargo by the communist regime against the Cuban people. This trip to Cuba and this interview with the dictator covering the current shift occurred ten years after the journey of John Paul II, which raised many hopes for the freedom of Cuba across the globe. In fact, judging his own confessions to some journalists, the papal envoy left the meeting with lips and heart tainted by concessions, ears filled with promises, and empty hands: “Everything always begins with promises, but we expect an opening, since nothing is impossible” (See Isabel Sanchez, AFP, El Nuevo Herald, Miami, Feb. 27, 2008).
Insufficient were his timid references to prisoners on the island, made at the stairway to the plane that took him back to Rome, to alleviate the bitter taste left by his stay in Cuba, especially among the political prisoners and their families.
The pro-castro tendencies of Cardinal Bertone had already been evidenced in his previous trip to Cuba in October 2005, when as archbishop of Genoa, he conducted a long interview with Fidel Castro, after which he wove eulogies to the “remarkable lucidity” of the tyrant, he expressed his belief that he “has grown respect for religion” and “appreciation for the Church” concluding, against all evidence, that in the island jail “the opening is already complete” (See Armando Valladares, “Cardinal Bertone-Cuba: the shepherd blesses the wolf “, Oct. 25, 2005).
In fact, the most troubling aspect of the trip to Cuba by the high prelate is the enigmatic continuation of the policy of extending the hand of the Vatican and important ecclesiastical figures from various countries towards the Caribbean tyranny, for nearly four decades, dating back to the years when Monsignor Zacchi, now bolstered by the Cardinal Bertone, was the nuncio in Cuba, and the time that Monsignor Agostino Casaroli, then secretary of the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church, affirmed during a visit to Cuba, in 1974, that the Catholics on the island were happy. An enigmatic continuation that has witnessed many unfortunate episodes featuring many cardinals and senior clergy of various countries that have made pilgrimages to communist Cuba, that I have had occasion to address in previous articles. An enigmatic continuation that includes John Paul II when on January 8, 2005, upon receiving the credentials of the new ambassador from Cuba to the Holy See, engaged in an incredible recognition of the various “goals” supposedly reached by the communist revolution in “health care” “education” and “culture”, through which the “integral human promotion,” would be promoted including “harmonious growth of body and spirit”; something which put Cuban Catholics at an unprecedented spiritual crossroads (See Armando Valladares, “John Paul II, Cuba and a dilemma of conscience,” January 15, 2005 and “Cardinal Sodano and Fidel Castro: Shepherd comes to the aid of the wolf “, May 11, 2003). An enigmatic continuation that inevitably culminates with the very papacy of Benedict XVI, for whom Cardinal Bertone is secretary of state and for whom he went to Cuba as his envoy.
In the lengthy message from Benedict XVI, taken by Cardinal Bertone, his allusion to the plight of Cuban Catholics could not have been more disappointing: “Sometimes, Some Christian communities are overwhelmed by difficulties, by scarcity of resources, indifference or even suspicion, which may induce despondency.” Is this what the systematic extermination of the Catholic Cubans, including the physical murder at the firing squad wall of young martyrs whose last words were “Long live Christ the king! Down with communism!” and the spiritual murder of entire generations will be reduced to according to the papal vision?
My suspicion regarding the future of Cuba is that it prepares, with support of the church at the highest level, a castrismo without Castro that will attempt to save the supposed “achievements” and “goals” of communism in Cuba of a social nature, in particular, education and health, that in reality have been and remain two instruments of unrelenting control of consciences and the extinction of the faith among children, youths and adults.
This is not the first time that my conscience obliges me to publish critical but invariably respectful and well-documented comments about diplomatic relations among high church figures with the communist state. They are comments made by the imperative of conscience of a faithful Catholic and Cuban political prisoner for 22 years, who had his faith vivified upon hearing the cries of those young people who died via firing squads, whose last words were expressions of faith in the Church and repudiation of a system, that to use the term of then Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is a “shame of our time.”
Armando Valladares, a former Cuban political prisoner, was U.S. Ambassador to the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva during the Reagan and Bush administrations. E-mail:

8 thoughts on “Benedict XVI and the trip to Cuba by Cardinal Bertone”

  1. Again, I repeat, it’s moments like this—after reading Armando Valladares’s detailed history of Vatican involvement and support of the Castro tryanny—that I understand what lead Martin Luther–tired of church corruption and hypocrisy–to hammer his list of grievances on the church door that day back in the 1500s. This of course lead to the great schism and the protestant reformation.
    And that same old Catholic Church even today has not learned from its past mistakes. It continues to sow weeds of dissension, dismay and bitter disappointment in its followers.

  2. Sadly, as I posted previously, Cardinal Bertone, in words and action, has repudiated the Sermon on the Mount. He has stood with the powerful against those who suffer for justice’s sake, forsaken the meek, and depised those who hunger and thirst for freedom. The Catholic Church acts no differently from a Spanish or Canadian hotel chain that seeks to get a cut of the action, blind to the suffering of the Cuban people. Unlike the hoteliers, the Catholic Church can expect no return on its investment. The Cuban people, when finally free, will remember a “Vichy” church, cynically cutting a deal with Raul the Executioner. Benedict, raised in Nazi Germany, should know better. Bertone is a fine “Deputy”.

  3. Now I preface my statement in saying that I am a former Catholic who left because of what we call being “born again” and professing what I consider a Biblical Christianity. I say that not too insult, but to make it clear that I did not leave for political reasons. With that said I find it amazing to the blind loyalty that my fellow Cubans who are Catholic have to a denomination that is not exhibiting any Biblical values in relation to the plight of the Cuban people. I respect everyone’s right to worship as they please, but the Catholic’s here and abroad are the ones propping up the Catholic Church which chooses to prop up the Cuban regime. I would challenge those who profess to be Catholic to converse with or write your local priests, bishops, etc. and express your discontent with the position of the Catholic church. Demonstrate do something. We expect those on the island to do much, the least that we could do is get the Catholic Church’s attention regarding your disgust at their actions. As long as they go unchallenged they will not change. If you feel they will not listen then you need to ask yourselves some serious questions.

  4. The Vatican has to know that all it is likely to get from the Cuban government is crumbs and scraps. Is that worth such infamy as this? That photo of Raul and Bertone shaking hands, where Bertone is smiling ear to ear and looks downright maniacal, is incredibly disturbing, not to mention deeply offensive. Are a few government concessions worth such blatant disgrace?

  5. I’m not Catholic either, but the Protestant church doesn’t have clean hands when it comes to Cuba either. Remember that it was the National Council of Churches that fought to send Elian back.

  6. Some FYI the NCC and the WCC are considered far left denominational groups. They are not embraced in any way with mainline fundamental conservative churches. Also non-Catholics are not all protestants.

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