Benedict XVI in Cuba

George Weigel in the National Review:

Benedict XVI in Cuba

A retrospective, with lessons for the next conclave.

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Catholicism is not a “religion of the book,” but rather a faith built around word and sacrament — or, if you prefer, text and demonstration. Symbolic acts that convey the truths the Church teaches are of the essence of Catholic practice; this is true of the Church’s public life as well as of its worship. The Church teaches an ethic of charity toward the poor and marginalized; the Church embodies that teaching in its hospitals, schools, and social-service agencies. The Church teaches that the just society is composed of a democratic political community, a free economy, and a vibrant public moral culture; the Church embodies that teaching in its support for the institutions of civil society that make free politics and free economics possible — even when that requires challenging the existing political order, as it did during the pontificate of John Paul II in countries as diverse as Poland, Chile, Argentina, and the Philippines.

Viewed through this prism of word-and-sacrament, or text-and-demonstration, Pope Benedict XVI’s March 26–28 pilgrimage to the island prison of Cuba was a rather Protestant exercise: brilliant in word but deficient in “sacramentality.” The pope’s time in Santiago and Havana was by no means wasted. But it could have been used better by demonstrating in action the truths Benedict XVI taught with conviction; such a demonstration would have strengthened the hand of the civil-society associations on which the transition to a free Cuba ultimately depends. The gap between “text” and “demonstration” during the pope’s Cuban voyage is also instructive through the light it sheds on the Catholic future in a Cuba-in-transition, and on a crucial issue in the conclave that will choose Pope Benedict’s successor.

The Texts
Benedict XVI’s addresses in Cuba were vintage Joseph Ratzinger: richly informed by Biblical and theological wisdom, and lucidly expressed. Despite his pre-papal reputation as a fierce defender of orthodoxy, Ratzinger’s papacy has consistently shown the world the real man his friends and colleagues knew and admired: a man who doesn’t raise his voice as a matter of habit (or tactic), but who makes his arguments calmly, drawing on an unmatched fund of knowledge in a variety of fields. Benedict XVI, on occasion, has had to use somewhat more elliptical constructions than is his wont. But his meaning is never much in doubt.

Thus, in a airborne press conference en route to Latin America, the pope who, a quarter-century ago, once referred to the “impossible compromise between Christianity and Marxism,” now spoke of Cuban Marxism as something that “no longer corresponds to reality” — a slightly less edgy formulation, one might think, except that it was a polite papal way of saying that Castroite Communism is crazy, mad, completely-out-of-touch-with-the-real-world: which is another way of saying that it’s hellish. There is little chance that what the pope meant was missed by Raúl Castro and the rest of Cuba’s jailer-class.

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6 thoughts on “Benedict XVI in Cuba”

  1. Oh please….. I guess we can say that the pope made critical comments. All one has to do is stand on there head spinning while gargling peanut butter and squinting and then yes…. I think I can see it.
    Anybody want to buy some beachfront property in Iowa? Many Roman Catholics are the Obots of religion.

  2. This was my comment on the article:

    All this is well and good, but I don’t accept the fact that this Pope was ill served by his underlings. Nothing leads me to believe that he is ill informed or unintelligent.
    This Pope can show that he is a moral leader. It is not too late. He must stand before the world and proclaim what he knows to be true in Cuba. The arrests, the beatings, the lack of spontaneity in the crowds, who were allowed to be there by the powers that chose them because it was predictable how they would behave, the immediate arrest and beating of the one brave soul who stood up to the tyranny, the Pope saw some of this and knows of the rest. He must make a loud noise proclaiming in public that Cuba is a tyranny and the Church cannot work with these thugs.
    He must bless the Ladies in White in absentia and Biscet and the other dissidents by name. He must talk of their bravery and bless them for following the faith in the face of terrifying odds.
    Fire Ortega. Choose a less accommodating priest. Make a loud noise! Declare the difference between right and wrong. Then the world may yet have a chance to respect this Pope.

  3. Even if one leaves out what John Paul II did in and for his native Poland, it’s clear that he was much more stern, hard-nosed and no-nonsense with the Pinochet government in Chile than he ever was with the Castro regime, despite the indisputable fact that the latter has been far more destructive and harmful. Why? Needless to say, Benedict XVI’s performance in Cuba has only intensified the obviousness of the Vatican’s inconsistency. Why has the Vatican been so much gentler, softer, patient and accommodating with the Castros than it was with Pinochet? Why did John Paul II (according to Vatican sources) deliberately try to avoid appearing in public with Pinochet when he visited Chile, yet neither he nor Benedict did that with the Castro tyrants in Cuba? Why would Benedict, having opted to ignore insistent calls to meet with the Catholic Ladies in White, add insult to injury by meeting with Fidel Castro, which was not required by protocol? Why did Rome support international sanctions against South Africa but not against Cuba? WHY?

    These are not idle questions. They demand explanations, and I mean satisfactory ones, certainly if the Vatican expects self-respecting Cubans to respect it. However, it may not care much about that. It may take the Saladrigas approach and simply dismiss its Cuban critics as “hysterical” or “intransigent” and keep playing softball, or Nerf ball. Still, the whole business only looks increasingly worse the more one examines it.

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