Castro’s rule marked by stormy relations with Cuban church
ICC Note: This article is a good review of Castro’s legacy in restricting religious freedom, especially as regards the Catholic Church – let us not forget what happened in Cuba to our brothers and sisters.
By Agostino Bono
2/19/08 Cuba (CNS) — During nearly 50 years of rule, Fidel Castro had an often-stormy relationship with the Cuban Catholic Church.
The Jesuit-educated Castro was equally comfortable defusing the Cuban church as an institutional force during the early years of his revolution in the 1960s as he was bantering casually with Pope John Paul II during the papal visit to Cuba in 1998.
The 81-year-old Cuban leader announced Feb. 19 that he was retiring as head of the island nation. He had temporarily ceded power to his younger brother, Raul Castro, in July 2006, after undergoing surgery because of intestinal bleeding — but he never returned to office, ending more than 49 years of continuous rule.
He came to power on the Caribbean island Jan. 1, 1959, at 32 years of age after leading a successful guerrilla rebellion against unpopular dictator Fulgencio Batista.
After Batista came to power in 1952, Castro, a young lawyer, started organizing a rebel force.
Initially, his successful rebellion had ample support among Catholics. He cultivated the support by saying his revolution was motivated by Christian principles. In a press interview with a Catholic priest shortly after taking power, Castro noted that six priests were chaplains to his rebel forces.
But things quickly changed. In 1961, he declared himself a Marxist-Leninist and made Cuba the first communist state in the Western Hemisphere, moving it into the Cold War camp of the Soviet Union.
His government began institutionally dismantling the church, nationalizing 350 Catholic schools and expelling 136 priests. Church activity was restricted to religious services on church property. Social action projects were prohibited. Church programs were monitored, and Cubans were discouraged from attending worship services with churchgoers discriminated against when seeking state and university employment.
In the 1970s Castro tapped into Latin American theologians’ interest in Marxism and their political interest in socialism as an alternative to the capitalism practiced in the region. He cultivated support among non-Cuban Catholic intellectuals and priests dissatisfied with the region’s growing gap between the rich and the poor, inviting them to visit his island as a counterpoint to criticisms by Cuban and Vatican church officials.
In 2003 he sidestepped the Cuban bishops and directly negotiated with the Vatican to allow a group of Brigittine Sisters entry into Havana at a time when the Cuban bishops had a long list of foreign priests and nuns wanting entry visas… [Go To Full Story]