The pope did say the other day to reporters that “Marxist ideology is in the way it was conceived no longer corresponds to reality,” and that Cuba needs “new models.” But as we know, Castro himself told The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg last year that the Cuban model has failed. So in making that statement, the Pope was not saying anything that even Fidel Castro himself hasn’t acknowledged. That statement alone by the pope does not let us know just what he will do once in Cuba on behalf of the most oppressed in Cuba.
The truth is that it does not bode well for Cuba’s dissidents. They have requested openly that Pope Benedict meet with them. The only response they have received is that his schedule does not allow for it. At the same time, the pope has evidently told the regime that at a moment’s notice, should Fidel Castro feel up to it, he will meet with the semi-retired dictator as he wishes. So the pope will meet with the Castro brothers, but evidently has no time to meet the bravest and most principled of his own flock. As Conrad Black reported, the Ladies in White — who for years have worn white and for ten years have dared to come out in the open and stand in non-violent protest on behalf of their imprisoned husbands and sons — have asked the papal nuncio for even one minute’s time with the pope. The Cuban cardinal’s answer to them was that his schedule will not permit him the time.
The Soviet leader and tyrant Joseph Stalin supposedly asked in the 1940s when he was informed of criticism of his regime by the pope, “How many divisions does the pope have?” The answer came decades later, when the late Polish Pope Pope John Paul II used his position to give the Polish people the courage and strength to organize the Solidarity movement, which began the process that led to the collapse of Communism in that country. The pope did not need actual military divisions to have influence that led the oppressed to revolt and to organize — just his moral authority.
At this point, however, we do not have any evidence that the current pope will follow in the tradition of John Paul II as he travels to Cuba. Will he be content with witnessing the flourishing of an open Catholic Church in a country in which it was once forbidden for the faithful to practice, and leave the people seeking freedom in the lurch? Or will he use his position and his moral leadership to not only condemn Marxism in the abstract, but give the Cuban people the courage and inspiration to join the few dissidents and start in the process of opposition to the Castro brothers’ tyranny?
We know that the pope is an antagonist of the regime. But the Castro brothers hope that the pope will use his visit only to celebrate the 400th anniversary of La Caridad, and praise the regime for now allowing the Church to exist. But as the WSJ’s Mary O’Grady wrote, “Some dissidents wonder whose side the cardinal is on. In recent years he was instrumental in helping the regime deport scores of political prisoners who had become a liability for the regime’s image. Though he recently offered a Mass for ailing Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez, Ms. Soler’s request for a Mass for deceased dissidents has gone unanswered.”
This response, as well as the eviction from a Cuban church of the Ladies in White, has led many dissident groups to fear that the pope will indeed bypass them, content with the attention and approval of the Church that the Castro brothers have given Rome.
Perhaps Pope Benedict will surprise the Cuban people, and will, when in Cuba, reverse his previous standoff position and offer his public support for the cause of freedom. One would think that betrayal of his most devout followers is not the way to gain support for Catholicism in Cuba. We will all see where he stands this coming week.