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Cable sobre la jerarquía episcopal cubana

Una comunicación de la Sección de Intereses de La Habana señala que la jerarquía eclesiástica quiere preservar su estatus y desea evita cualquier desafío al Gobierno

ID: 173884
Date: 2008-10-15 21:25:00
Origin: 08HAVANA811
Source: US Interests Section Havana
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Destination: VZCZCXRO6592
DE RUEHUB #0811/01 2892125
P 152125Z OCT 08

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


E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/15/2018


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

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
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