Cuban cardinal outraged by pro-U.S. charge

.- The leader of the Catholic Church in Cuba, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, rejected as "truly outrageous" a Communist government official's charge that Cuban bishops served the interests of the United States.

Cardinal Jaime Ortega, archbishop of Havana and president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Cuba, said statements made last week by Cuba's envoy to the Vatican, Raul Roa, were "insulting."

Ortega was most annoyed by Roa's remark that Cuban priests are closer to the people and the socialist work of the government, while some bishops are "closer to the people in Miami, the Cuban emigres. Ambassador Roa uses disrespectful and sometimes offensive language never before employed in public by a Cuban ambassador to the Holy See," the cardinal said in a statement.

Ties between the church and Cuba's one-party state have been tense since the early days of Castro's rule. Following his 1959 revolution, as Cuba steered toward Soviet Communism, priests were expelled and churches closed.

Relations reached a high point with the historic visit by Pope John Paul II in 1998, but have since declined due to continued restrictions on the church's activities.

Ortega, who was sent to a labor camp for his religious beliefs as a young priest, has criticized Castro's social and economic policies for undermining family values and causing an exodus of Cubans.

But the archbishop has kept the church out of politics and resisted calls from dissidents that it adopt a more critical stance, declaring in 2002 that the church would not play the role of a "opposition party that does not exist in Cuba."

Roa said the Catholic Church hierarchy served Spanish colonial rule and, after the Spanish-American war of 1898, continued in the service of a foreign power, the United States.

"His opinions about the Cuban bishops and their distance from the priests are unacceptable and false," the cardinal said.


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