Cardinal Ortega’s smile masks his shameful role in Cuban history

From our Bureau of Clear-Eyed Obituaries with assistance from our Bureau of Historical Facts That Serve As Meditations On Matthew 7:15 *

[Matthew 7:15: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.]

Vicente Echerri — an exiled Cuban cleric — has published an incisive analysis of Cardinal Jaime Ortega’s life and work.

Echerri, a Protestant, established a friendship with Ortega in Cuba in the 1970’s while he was still a seminarian and the future Cardinal was still a young priest, recently released from Che Guevara’s UMAP camps. At that time both pastors were devoted to fostering ecumenical relations between their flocks.

After Echerri fled from Cuba, he grew increasingly dismayed by Ortega’s transformation into an abject lackey of the Castro regime.

From Cubadebate: a loose translation of some of its most enlightening paragraphs.

h/t to Asombra

There was a feature in the personality of Jaime Ortega that puzzled me and that some have also remarked upon positively in his obituaries these past few days: his constant smile, which seemed to me and others to be insincere, even false. He used to smile with his teeth clenched together tightly and his lips wide open, which gave one the impression that he was a horse who had suddenly been restrained by his bridle. My classmates at the seminary used to say, as a joke: “Let’s see you smile like Father Jaime” and whoever took on this dare would open his lips excessively and clench his his teeth together in order to cause uproarious laughter.

He had visited us at least once when, on my initiative and with his consent, we organized an ecumenical gathering of young people that lasted an entire afternoon in which we shared readings, hymns, testimonies and prayers. My classmates were closer to him that day and their feelings about his fake smile – which masked God only knows how many character flaws – must have come from that encounter.

There was, in addition, in that parish community of the cathedral of Matanzas an atmosphere of dissipation that reminded us – with all the proper distance required – of a small Renaissance court. Many years had yet to pass before that priest was elevated to a cardinal, but in the intimate circle of Father Jaime there was an air of worldliness, of lightness – alluring, by the way – that resembled the lifestyle of cardinals of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. There were many young people and, if my memory does not betray me, the men were singularly handsome. This could have been pure chance, but then one would be forced to conclude that God Himself discriminated against His flock on the basis of good looks…

…Cardinal Ortega must have seen himself as an official whose task was to recover spaces of influence for the Church in the face of a decrepit regime, whose sudden collapse could mean a greater general debacle. The Church cast her luck with the regime in exchange for a few privileges, especially that of having a greater social visibility. Ortega would eventually procure for the Castro regime the benefit of three papal visits with all the political and economic benefits that this entailed.

His drift towards open complicity would only accentuate over time. As a government intermediary in the release and forced exile of prisoners from the so-called “Black Spring”, to the open condemnation of his own dissident parishioners as “low class” and “delinquents” (as he did on a visit to Harvard in 2012, without a hint of shame), and up to his becoming the messenger boy of Raúl Castro in the conversations that led to the reestablishment of relations between the United States and Cuba in 2015. I certainly regret that the career of that friendly priest with whom I once shared so many pleasant moments should have ended in his abject submission to a corrupt State and in the betrayal of the interests of the people he should have been serving.

How could this behavior be explained? There is no lack of rumors about his secret sexual appetites – the same ones that led him to surround himself with colorful good looking young men early in his career – promptly documented by the regime, and used as an instrument of blackmail to obtain the docile compromise of the prelate. This was once confirmed to me by a prominent layman from the archdiocese of Santiago and very close to Monsignor Maurice, who was apparently persuaded of the truth of this rumor. Maybe, I dare to doubt it. Although the homosexual relationships of the priests of his generation were not uncommon, I prefer to relegate this argument to the field of speculation.

For me – writing this note on the afternoon of July 28, while the funeral of Jaime Ortega in Havana takes place – the great sin of the man who is now returned to dust was pride, his ambition to play a leading role in the midst of the greatest crisis that Cuban society has ever suffered, succumbing to the temptation of power and pride, to the satisfaction of his own importance, even if it were in exchange for its soul, striving to be an acolyte of Caesar or Pilate, instead of the humble disciple of Christ, as one would expect.

Entire detailed essay HERE, in Spanish

2 thoughts on “Cardinal Ortega’s smile masks his shameful role in Cuban history”

  1. I’m not sure Echerri is a cleric; I only know him as a writer, meaning an opinion columnist, though I believe he has published poetry. In any case, that’s neither here nor there for the purposes of his piece on Ortega.

  2. I expect Ortega was “viciado de origen,” meaning he was always shallow and two-faced, and I have little doubt that included covert homosexual activity. Echerri tells of a meeting in New York between Ortega and Cuban exiles, including himself, at which the cardinal spoke frankly about how the RCC in Cuba had been persecuted and victimized by the Castro regime, but he also told the gathering not to expect him to say any such thing publicly, as if that were perfectly legitimate. He was, at best, a politician, not to say an operator.

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