The Archdiocese of Havana issued a press release on August 20 in response to an open letter recently sent to Pope Benedict XVI by a group of Cuban dissidents. The archdiocese said its statement was in response to the uproar among Catholics concerning the letter, “which contains offensive content toward the Church in Cuba.”
The open letter from the dissidents was signed by 165 people, many of whom are Catholic and have been involved in the Varela Project. Many are also family members of the prisoners who “desperately want” the regime to disappear.
The dissidents stated that they are not in agreement with “the position the Cuban Church hierarchy has taken in its intervention in support of political prisoners,” which they call “unfortunate and embarrassing.” They believe that if the bishops had offered the “right mediation,” they would have listened to “the complaints of both sides” and would have reconciled them.
“However,” they continued, “the solution of exile, accepted by those who have been unjustly imprisoned for seven years only because of their ideas, only benefits the dictatorship,” as this “exodus” prevents them from continuing in their struggle for democracy in Cuba.
The response from the archdiocese
The press release from the Archdiocese of Havana pointed out that when the Church “accepted the mission of mediating between the family members of the prisoners ... and Cuban officials, it knew that this mediation could be interpreted in different ways, provoking various reactions: from insults to defamation, to acceptance and even gratitude. Remaining inactive was not a valid option for the Church because of her pastoral mission,” the statement said.
The archdiocese also noted that “the Church’s actions supporting respect for the dignity of all Cubans and for social harmony in Cuba has been ongoing for 20 years” and “has never and will never be based on political tendencies, whether of the government or of the opposition, but rather on her pastoral mission.”
The statement also indicated that “the Church in Cuba will not divert her attention from that which motivated her to act in this process: the humanitarian complaint from families who have suffered from the incarceration of one or more of their members.”
Demonstrating the Pope's awareness of the situation, the archdiocese quoted Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, who recently remarked that the crucial role assumed in the Cuban dialogue process by Cardinal Jaime Ortega and by Archbishop Dionisio Garcia, the president of the bishops’ conference, was possible because of the evident fact that the Catholic Church is profoundly rooted in the nation's people and is interpreted in the light of their spirit and their expectations.
The statement continued citing Fr. Lombardi, who said that the Church in Cuba “is not a strange reality, she does not escape in difficult times. She bears the sufferings and brings hope, with dignity and patience, ... but without trying to increase tensions or exacerbate feelings.”
She does this, he added, “with the constant commitment to opening paths to understanding and dialogue.”
The archdiocese concluded its statement again quoting Fr. Lombardi, who said the Holy See “supports the local Church with its spiritual solidarity and international authority,” and that “the Holy See has always declared itself against the embargo, and thus is united with the people in their suffering.”
The spokesman then spoke of the Church's willingness “to support any perspective on constructive dialogue ... with patience, important progress has been made in this direction. We all want it to continue.”