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WIKILEAKS: Bertone Visit Generates Broad Disappointment

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  • Simon mcguinness
    Fascinating view of US displeasure with the Vatican for its searing criticism of US policy towards Cuba as delivered in Spanish, live on Cuban TV by the Pope s
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 31, 2011
      Fascinating view of US displeasure with the Vatican for its searing
      criticism of US policy towards Cuba as delivered in Spanish, live on Cuban
      by the Pope's top diplomat.

      Ouch! Criticism doesn't come more public than that.

      In retaliation, Obama may have decided to pull the rug out from under the
      discussions with the Vatican to swap the Five heroes for the mercenaries.
      What is clear is that the Vatican has lost patience with the USA and doesn't
      care who overhears their displeasure. - SMcG.


      C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 HAVANA 000245



      E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/13/2013



      E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/13/2013

      REF: VATICAN 0031

      HAVANA 00000245 001.2 OF 002

      Classified By: DCM Buddy Williams for reason 1.4 (b) and (d)

      ¶1. (C) SUMMARY: The visit to Cuba of Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal
      Tarcisio Bertone was considered a disappointment by everyone USINT has
      spoken with, though presumably not by the GOC itself. In a subsequent
      meeting with the COM, the Nuncio seemed especially disappointed. But even
      normally cautious Cardinal Jaime Ortega cited several serious problems with
      the visit. Nevertheless, the visit probably achieved the Church's principal
      objective of preserving, and even expanding slightly, its space on the
      island. Cardinal Ortega is now focusing his attention on convincing the
      Vatican that a papal visit in January 2009 would be a good idea.

      ¶2. (C) The February 20-26 visit to Cuba of Vatican Secretary of State
      Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone had been planned for months to coincide with the
      tenth anniversary of the visit to Cuba of Pope John Paul II. The visit
      included the dedication of a monument to the papal visit that was erected on
      the site of the papal mass celebrated during the 1998 visit in the central
      Cuban city of Villa Clara. By coincidence, Bertone's visit began just as
      the Cuban National Assembly was electing Raul Castro president of the
      Council of State in place of his brother Fidel, who had withdrawn from
      consideration for the post the week before for health reasons. Thus,
      Cardinal Bertone became the first official outside visitor to the new Raul
      Castro-led Cuba. With that role in mind, the Bertone visit was an
      especially inauspicious event.

      ¶3. (C) Given the care with which the Church in Cuba approaches its
      relations with the regime, we did not expect Bertone to go beyond very
      circumspect diplomatic language. Instead, at a MINREX-sponsored press event
      he attacked U.S. policy towards Cuba, calling the embargo "ethically
      unacceptable and an oppression of the Cuban people." He also lent his
      support to the GOC proposal to swap political prisoners for five Cuban spies
      held in the U.S., implicitly equating the convicted spies with prisoners of
      conscience. He further criticized the U.S. for the way its policies affected
      family reunification, but made no mention of restrictions placed on family
      reunification of its own citizens by the Government of Cuba itself.

      ¶4. (C) Bertone's willingness to join with the GOC in bashing U.S. policy
      prompted one Cuban to comment to his parish priest that the Cuban Communist
      Party (PCC) would soon be issuing him a membership card. Many Cubans with
      whom we have spoken expressed similar or stronger levels of disappointment
      with the visit. Especially among practicing Catholic faithful, Bertone's
      visit had been anticipated as an opportunity to renew the spirit of hope
      that had come from Pope John Paul II's 1998 visit, and give a voice to the
      rising and unfulfilled expectations of the Cuban people to which the Cuban
      bishops had referred clearly in their Christmas message. Those in and
      around Havana complained specifically about the heavy police presence at
      Cardinal Bertone's mass at the Havana cathedral that seemed designed to
      exclude the rank and file faithful. Those excluded were relegated to
      viewing the mass on television (the broadcast of which was considered a
      success of the visit by the local church) where they could see the pews
      filled with foreign diplomats (though not from USINT, we were not invited),
      government officials, and members of the nomenklatura who normally take no
      part in church activities.

      ¶5. (C) COM called on the Papal Nuncio the week after the visit to raise
      the statements made by Cardinal Bertone. The Nuncio defended Bertone's
      statement on the embargo strongly as consistent with the Vatican's position,
      and refused to be swayed on the question of swapping Cuban political
      prisoners for five Cuban spies held in the U.S., saying all are prisoners
      who suffer and the Church must defend the rights of all. The Nuncio seemed
      literally to be stricken that the USG would be offended by Bertone's
      comments. He did allow that he thought it was unfortunate that the Cardinal
      had decided to speak in Spanish, a language in which he is not comfortable,
      at the news conference. That decision may have induced Bertone to use the
      Spanish phrasing he had heard most recently, that of the senior officials of
      the Cuban Foreign Ministry who used their customary loaded language to
      describe relations with the U.S. The Nuncio cited some things he saw as
      successes coming from the visit, including progress on
      HAVANA 00000245 002.2 OF 002
      allowing the Church to have regular radio broadcasts and permission for
      construction on churches (though not to build entirely new churches).

      ¶6. (C) In a subsequent meeting, the usually cautious and circumspect
      Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the archbishop of Havana, told COM and PolEcon
      Counselor that he was disappointed with the visit as a whole. Ortega
      complained about the level of Cardinal Bertone's homilies, which he
      described as doctoral-level essays on the theology of relativism--a worthy
      subject, but not what the Cuban people needed or wanted to hear about at
      this time. Ortega also was very unhappy about the decision to have the
      Cardinal visit the ELAM (Escuela Latino-American de Medicina or Latin
      American School of Medicine). There he met with foreign students dressed in
      native dress who extolled the benefits of being brought to Cuba to study
      medicine. The event was a blatant propaganda exercise directed at
      individuals who are not in any way related to the Cuban Catholic Church.
      Presumably, it was the price that had to be paid to allow the construction
      and dedication of the papal monument in Villa Clara to go forward.

      ¶7. (C) While disappointed in the visit of Cardinal Bertone, Ortega is
      already focused on a larger goal--another papal visit. He said that he
      hoped to convince the Vatican that it will be possible for the Pope to stop
      in Cuba upon his return from an already scheduled visit to Mexico in January
      2009. Ortega expects that the Vatican will argue that the Pope will be too
      exhausted to do another visit, but he plans to argue that the flight to Cuba
      from Mexico is short; the visit would consist only of the dedication of the
      new seminary now under construction near Havana and a large, open-air mass;
      and that the Pope can then fly directly to Rome. As Ortega faces mandatory
      retirement for age at the end of 2009, this will be his last chance to get
      the Pope to Cuba. He hopes that a papal visit will help to fill the
      newly-opened seminary with Cuban candidates for the priesthood.

      ¶8. (C) The most positive reports regarding the Bertone visit came from
      outside of Havana. Santiago-based priest, Fr. XXXXXXXXXXXX, described the
      Catholic faithful in eastern Cuba as excited by the visit, and enthusiastic
      participants in the mass Bertone celebrated in the city of Guantanamo and
      his visit to the Basilica of the Copper Madonna near Santiago. XXXXXXXXXXXX
      thought the Cardinal's homilies on those occasions were appropriately
      directed to the interests of the local people and well-received. He agreed,
      however, with the overall assessment that the visit had not addressed the
      broader expectations of the Cuban people.

      ¶9. (C) COMMENT: The Cuban church hierarchy has been famous (or infamous)
      for taking a very mild stance relative to the Castro regime. Their goal,
      and that of the Vatican as well, has been to preserve and nurture back to
      health an institution that had been battered by the revolution. To achieve
      that goal, their center of gravity has been the regime, since it has always
      represented the biggest threat to the existence of the church as an
      institution. Through keeping the regime friendly, the Church hopes to build
      on small successes, like access to the airwaves and permission to construct
      Church-related buildings like the seminary. In the sense of achieving the
      goal of keeping the regime friendly, the Bertone visit could be considered a
      great success, therefore. However, it is a success that could come at the
      cost of a loss of confidence in the Church among the Cuban faithful. If
      those faithful feel the Catholic Church is not sensitive enough to their
      expectations, they may begin to drift away, perhaps to be picked up by the
      burgeoning evangelical and pentecostal movements on the island. Parish-level
      priests we spoke with in Havana are aware of this threat and were even more
      vocal in their disapproval of the Bertone visit. It goes without saying
      that we too are extremely disappointed by the fact that the Cardinal allowed
      himself to be used by the regime as a propaganda tool to bash U.S. policy.
      If an early-2009 papal visit is a viable option, the way might still be
      clear to recuperate some of the ground lost through Bertone's visit. But
      that will only happen if the Vatican has a change of heart about how it
      deals with this regime.

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