Cuba’s “Habemus Papam”
Upon the death of the pope, the College of Cardinals of the Catholic Church gathers in secret conclave to select a new pope. The maximum number of Cardinal Electors allowed is 120. During the process, these Princes of the Church are sequestered and are not allowed any contact with the outside world: no television, newspapers, mobile phones, etc. If workers in Vatican City run into a cardinal, they are forbidden from speaking to him. The cardinals must take an oath that they will follow the rules and keep absolute secrecy about their deliberations.
After each vote, the ballots and all notes are burned, and smoke from the burning of the ballots appears over the Vatican Palace. Black smoke signifies no agreement; white smoke signals that a new pope has been elected. Shortly afterwards, the Proto-Deacon of the College of Cardinals steps into the main balcony of the Vatican and declares to the World: “Habemus Papam!” “We have a Pope!”
Recent statements in Cuba’s Catholic media reflect this elitist church tradition of exclusion and secrecy. Espacio Laical, a publication run by the Lay Council of the Havana Archdiocese; Palabra Nueva (New Word), the archdiocese’s own magazine; and a letter signed by bishops and vicars of Havana’s Bishops Council, all use confrontational and exclusionary language to condemn those criticizing the tactics of Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega.
The publications characterize critics of the cardinal’s Chamberlainian approach as factions full of hatred and prejudices with very little political intelligence. The argument is subtly made that Ortega alone has divined the right methodology for orderly and peaceful changes in collaboration with the Cuban government’s gerontocracy. In a modern day auto-da-fé, the archdiocese’s editorials declared that those who disagree with the cardinal exclude themselves from Cuba’s future.
It is perhaps understandable that Cardinal Ortega and his Episcopal Council feel more comfortable interacting behind closed doors with their counterparts in the Cuban government than with the church’s parishioners. During Cuba’s struggle for independence, the church similarly sided with the brutal Spanish crown and not with the freedom seekers. The church has a controversial but successful 2,000-year history with its elitist, top-down, nondemocratic governing structure.
However, the expressed disdain for inclusive, bottom-up, democratic participation by citizens in Cuba’s future is indefensible.
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