Sunday, January 23, 2011

Catholic Church "mostly avoids challenging" the Cuban government

According to this 2008 confidential memo, Cuba's Catholic Church:
has neither the strength nor the inclination to challenge the GOC beyond the occasional criticism when GOC policies conflict with Vatican doctrine on issues such as gay rights.



08HAVANA811 2008-10-15 21:09 2011-01-22 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL US Interests Section Havana

VZCZCXRO6592
PP RUEHROV
DE RUEHUB #0811/01 2892125
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 152125Z OCT 08
FM USINT HAVANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3799
INFO RUEHROV/AMEMBASSY VATICAN PRIORITY 0152

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 HAVANA 000811

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/15/2018
TAGS: PHUM EAID PGOV KDEM CU
SUBJECT: PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE: THOUGHTS ON THE CATHOLIC
CHURCH IN CUBA

Classified By: COM JONATHAN FARRAR FOR REA...

¶1. (C) The Catholic Church seeks to work under the GOC's radar to rebuild its infrastructure and ecclesiastical ranks. From Cardinal Ortega all the way down to provincial nuns, the Church mostly avoids challenging the GOC. Fear of drawing the ire of the GOC limits church outreach programs to narrow niches, such as caring for mentally challenged children and adults. Congregations for the most part remain small, elderly, and female. Youth programs are stunted, leading one to wonder who will fill the newly-renovated churches to listen to the priests who graduate from the huge seminary now under construction.

¶2. (C) Over the past two months, COM has had the opportunity to engage with elements of the Catholic Church on a variety of levels, including with Cardinal Ortega, the auxiliary bishop of Havana, the bishop of Santiago, missionary nuns in Matanzas province, and priests from nine Havana parishes and one in Santiago. The impression one takes away is of a church extremely unlikely to challenge the GOC beyond even minimal ways. On issues large and small, Catholic Church strategy is to capitulate to GOC positions, preemptively if possible. Cardinal Ortega's priority is to increase the ranks of priests and religious, renovate church buildings, and complete the new seminary. In this he has succeeded. The numbers of priests has risen over the past ten years from 140 up to 240, and religious have doubled from 300 to 600. Half of the priests and two-thirds of the religious are foreigners. Churches recently renovated, or undergoing renovation with assistance from overseas, are evident throughout Havana.

¶3. (SBU) You Always Have to Give Way: As a nun with 26 years experience in Cuba explained to us, one always gives way to the GOC. Cardinal Ortega told the COM much the same during their two hour meeting. These dynamics appear to hold on both the national and local levels. Whether Church real estate was taken by the GOC before 1959 or afterwards, the Church is not seeking to recover it. When the seminarian ranks began to outgrow the capacity of their location in Havana Vieja, the church maneuvered (successfully) during Pope John Paul II's visit to gain permission to build a new seminary rather than recover its former building. Churches converted into museums and concert halls will remain that way. Rather than expressing rancor toward the GOC, members of the Catholic Church hierarchy expressed gratitude that the GOC does not block funding from foreign foundations and other sources needed to build and restore Church buildings.

¶4. (SBU) On the local level, the Catholic Church pays great deference to GOC strictures. Earlier this year, three missionary nuns in Matanzas sought to add a guest room to their house for their Mother Superior to use on visits. After they acquired the building materials, local authorities refused permission to build. The materials remain stacked in the house's interior courtyard. Population shifts within Havana province have increased the need for new churches in areas such as Alamar, on the outskirts of USINT,s travel limits. Absent GOC approval for new construction, the Catholic Church makes do with makeshift services in individual houses.

¶5. (C) And Then Came the Hurricanes: The interaction between the Catholic Church, including its relief arm, Caritas, and the GOC over hurricane relief issues is an interesting illustration of this deference. Caritas initially accepted USD 80,000 in hurricane relief funding from OFDA. Subsequently, Caritas engaged in delicate negotiations with the GOC on the terms under which it may import and distribute relief supplies. The GOC for the first time agreed for Caritas to import relief supplies and distribute them through Caritas's own distribution system. Most other churches distribute relief through the GOC's system, using GOC transport, for which the GOC takes credit. When the GOC turned up the heat in recent weeks on all churches not to accept USG relief funds, Caritas received instructions from the Church hierarchy here to cancel its agreement with USINT for the OFDA funds. Caritas promptly did so. Elsewhere on relief efforts, at the parish level COM has seen several parishes where the parish priest and laypersons went beyond the church hierarchy's structure for hurricane relief and began direct parish-to-parish relief efforts. Such direct engagement bears watching and encouragement.

¶6. (SBU) The Lost Generation: Youth programs mostly are anemic, and church attendance by young people reflects this. The Bishop of Santiago, Juan Hernandez, highlighted the difficulty of attracting children and adolescents whose parents are not churchgoers. Both Havana and Santiago dioceses offer catechism classes for minors, but attendance
HAVANA 00000811 002 OF 002
mostly appears sparse. A nun in Matanzas looked back fondly on her time in Camaguey, where she recalled a youth group of 75 or so. She found Matanzas to be much more challenging. Both the bishops and Cardinal Ortega noted church youth programs could not be seen to compete with the GOC's own programs. XXXXXXXXXXXX runs a lunch program for his mostly poor parish in Santiago, but disperses the meals among parish houses so as to attract less attention than would a large lunch at the church itself.

¶7. (C) Migration is Killing Us: Almost all of COM's Catholic Church interlocutors said migration was taking away many of their most educated and committed laypersons. Cardinal Ortega went further, noting that internal migration of non-Catholic Afro-Cubans into Havana had upset the "natural balance" in some of the poorer parishes in Havana. Asked about Church outreach programs for these migrants, the Cardinal did not cite any and instead gave the impression he considered such programs would be wasted efforts.

¶8. (SBU) Quiet Diplomacy: When asked about political prisoners, Cardinal Ortega said the Catholic Church prefers to intercede with GOC authorities behind the scenes. He views the Church as one of the few institutions able to intercede, albeit quietly, with the GOC on such issues. It is difficult to judge how often, or how effective, is such intercession. Both Bishop Hernandez and Havana Auxiliary Bishop Garcia Ibanez said access by priests to political prisoners is more frequent than it is to the larger population of those jailed for common crimes.

¶9. (C) Comment: The Catholic Church is by far the largest island-wide institution with even minimal autonomy from the GOC (the Methodists enjoy some autonomy but their reach is much less extensive). From what COM has observed thus far, however, decades of difficult Church-State relations have left their scars on the Catholic Church. Cardinal Ortega is committed to a slow rebuilding of the Catholic Church's capacity. The Catholic Church has neither the strength nor the inclination to challenge the GOC beyond the occasional criticism when GOC policies conflict with Vatican doctrine on issues such as gay rights. Nor do Catholic Church programs overall provide much material support to complement or substitute for GOC programs. The GOC means to keep it that way, and the Church thus far has gone along. We will be watching to see whether experiences in providing hurricane relief over the coming months change that dynamic.
End Comment.
FARRAR

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