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Cuba: Religion and Revolutionary Institutionalization


Both before and after the 1959 revolution, the Catholic Church in Cuba deviated from the norm in Latin America. This is in large measure due to the unique historical and social experience of Cuba, as well as to the fact that the church remained until the early 1960s largely a missionary outpost of Spain. When the revolution occurred, the Catholic Church was frozen in a pre-Vatican II mold which was reinforced by an exodus of clergy, religious and laity. The economic and diplomatic embargo of Cuba further isolated the church from progressive trends within the international church. Thus, the ferment unleashed by Vatican II (1962–5) and the Latin American Bishops Conference at Medellín, Colombia (1968) had less impact than changes resulting from the Cuban Revolution. As a consequence, the Catholic Church in Cuba entered the 1970s with limited theological and pastoral resources to meet the challenge of a consolidated Marxist/Leninist revolution. As an institution, the Catholic Church in Cuba is, as it was in 1959, the weakest in all of Latin America.

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1 Funds for research on this topic were partially provided by the Social Science Research Council, the Antilles Program of Yale University and the City University of New York Research Foundation.

2 For the strength of the church in the pre-1959 period, see Luis Aguilar, Cuba, 1933: Prologue to Revolution (New York, W. W. Norton, 1974), pp. 21–2;Davis J. Merle, The Cuban Church in a Sugar Economy (New York, International Missionary Council, 1942), p. 49;Leslie Dewart, Christianity, and Revolution: The Lesson of Cuba (New York, Herder & Herder, 1963), pp. 93–9;Francois Houtart and Andre Rousseau, The Church and Revolution (Maryknoll, N.Y., Orbis, 1971), pp. 113–14;Mecham J. Lloyd, Church and State in Latin America (rev. ed.) (Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1966), pp. 423–4;Ruiz Ramón E., Cuba: The Making of a Revolution (Amherst, University of Massachusetts Press, 1968), p. 162. For the post-1959 period, see Crahan Margaret E., ‘Salvation Through Christ or Marx: Religion in Revolutionary Cuba’, in Levine Daniel H., (ed.), Churches and Politics in Latin America (Beverly Hills, Sage Publications, 1980), pp. 238–66.

3 Crahan Margaret E., ‘Religious Penetration and Nationalism in Cuba: U.S. Methodist Activities, 1898–1958’, Revista\Review Interamericana, Vol. 8, No. 2 (Summer 1978), 204–24.

4 Dewart , op. cit., pp. 94–5.

5 Houtart and Rousseau , op. cit., p. 115.

6 Echevarria Salvat Oscar A., La agricultura cubana, 1934–1966: Regimen social, productividad y nivel de vida de sector agricola (Miami, Ediciones Universal, 1971), pp. 1416; 25.

7 Crahan Margaret E., ‘Protestantism in Cuba’, in Cunliffe Roger L., (ed.), PCCLAS Proceedings, Vol. 9 (San Diego, The Campanile Press, 1982), pp. 61–2.

8 René F. de la Huerta Aguiar, ‘Espiritismo y otras supersticiones en la población cubana’, Revista del Hospital Psiquiátrico de la Habana, Vol. 2, No. 1 (enero, febrero, marzo, 1960), 45–7.

9 Mateo Jover, ‘The Cuban Church in a Revolutionary Society’, LADOC, Vol. 4, No. 32 (04, 1974), p. 27.

10 Anuario Pontificio, 1982.

11 Echevarría , op. cit., pp. 69; 73–4.

12 Ibid., pp. 18–19; 34–50.

13 Houtart and Rousseau , op. cit., p. 115 and Hugh Thomas, Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom (New York, Harper & Row, 1971), p. 793.

14 Interview IH 4731191. In 1973, 1974, 1975, and 1976 I conducted some 50 interviews of Cuban churchpeople on the island, in Spain and in the United States. These interviews were updated in 1979 and 1984. Given the fact that some interviewees in Spain requested anonymity, all are referred to by letter and number only.

15 Dewart , op. cit., p. 114.

16 Houtart , op. cit., p. 116.

17 Dewart , op. cit., pp. 3, 108;Alfred L. Padula Jr, ‘The Fall of the Bourgeoisie: Cuba, 1959–1961’ (Doctoral Dissertation, University of New Mexico, 1974), pp. 438–9; Interview IH 471119.

18 Padula , op. cit., pp. 4301; Interview IH 4731192.

19 That the church was not considered to be part of the solution to such problems as rural poverty is indicated by the 1957 Agrupación Católica survey of 400 rural workers. Only 3.43% indicated that they believed that the church could contribute to improving rural conditions, while 68.73%; felt that the government could. Such an expectation provided fertile ground for the revolution. Echevarría , op. cit., p. 25.

20 Padula , op. cit., p. 440.

21 Ibid., 496–7.

22 Houtart and Rousseau , op. cit., p. 119;Padula , op. cit., pp. 143, 449–54;Claude Julien, ‘Church and State in Cuba: Development of a Conflict’, Cross Currents, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Spring, 1961), p. 187.

23 Ibid., p. 188; Padula , op. cit., pp. 458–9.

24 Julien , op cit., p. 188.

25 Padula , op cit., p. 466.

26 As quoted in Julien , op. cit., p. 188. For full text, see Enrique Péerez Serantes, Por Dios y Por Cuba', 05 16, 1960 (Santiago) in Ismael Teste, Historia Eclesiástica de Cuba, Vol. 5 (Barcelona, Artes Gráficas Medinacelli S A., 1975), pp. 562–8.

27 Julien , op. cit., p. 188.

28 Conferencia Episcopal de Cuba, ‘Carta Abierta del Episcopado al Primer Ministro’ (December 4, 1960), Teste , op. cit., V, pp. 603–6; ‘Roma o Moscu’, (November, 1980), Teste , op. cit., V, pp. 572–7 ‘Con Cristo o Contra Cristo’, (December 24, 1960), Teste , op. cit., V. pp. 585–90.

29 Dewart , op. cit., pp. 298309.

30 Interview, IH 4731192.

31 Dewart , op. cit., p. 165;Houtart , op. cit., p. 122;x Padula , op. cit., pp. 491–2.

32 Dominguez Jorge I., Cuba: Order and Revolution (Cambridge, Mass, Harvard University Press, 1978), pp. 469–70. Dominguez speculates that the priest was also trying to excuse himself of culpability since the statement was made before the captured Bay of Pigs invaders were returned to the US.

33 Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, as quoted in Antonio Benítez Rojo, ‘Fresh Air Blows Through the Seminary’, LADOC ‘Keyhole’ Series, No.7 (Washington, D.C.; United States Catholic Conference, nd), p. 53.

34 Maria Tereas Bolívar Arostegui, et al., ‘Cuban Christians and Puebla’, LADOC ‘Keyhole’ Series, No. 17 (Washington, D.C., United States Catholic Conference, nd), pp. 42–3.

35 Padula , op. cit., p. 480.

36 Houtart and Rousseau , op. cit., pp. 123–4;Jover , op. cit., p. 23.

37 ‘A New Zealander Looks at Cuba’ LADOC, Vol. I, 68a (05, 1971), p. 8.

38 Jover , op. cit., p. 18;Padula , op. cit., p. 581.

39 Cuban Christians for Socialism, ‘How Christians in Cuba See Their Future’, LADOC ‘Keyhole’ Series, No. 7, p. 77.

40 Manuel Fernández, ‘The Church, Eleven Years Later’, LADOC ‘Keyhole’ Series, No. 7, p. 7.

41 Episcopal Conference of Cuba, ‘Pastoral Letter, April 10, 1969’, LADOC ‘Keyhole’ Series, No. 7, pp. 47–9.

42 Interview IM 5771112.

43 Cuban Christians for Socialism, op. cit., pp. 7980.

44 Jim Wallace, ‘Christians in Cuba’, Cuba Resource Center Newsletter, Vol. 3, No. 1 (04, 1973), pp. 45.

45 Enrique Lóopez Oliva, Los católicos y la revolución latinoamericana (Havana, Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1970), pp. 63–4.

46 Cuban Christians for Socialism , op. cit., pp. 77–8.

47 Wallace , op. cit., p. 5.

48 Declaration on Religion of the First National Congress on Education and Culture, April 30, 1971 (Havana), Center for Cuban Studies Files, D-888, np.

49 Groups considered counterrevolutionary were the Jehovah's Witnesses, Evangelical Gideon's Band, and Seventh Day Adventists.

50 Declaration, np.

51 Constitution of the Republic of Cuba (Havana, Instituto Cubano del Libro, 1975), p. 30.

52 Elmer Rodríguez, ‘Cuba: Who Said There Is No Religious Freedom in Cuba?’ Prensa Latina Feature Service, No. 168 (05 1, 1977), pp. 23.

53 Partido Comunista de Cuba, Segundo Congreso, ‘La construcción del socialismo y la libertad de conciencia’, December, 1980, np.

54 Fidel Castro, ‘There Are No Contradictions Between the Aims of Religion and the Aims of Socialism’, Granma, Vol. 12, No. 7 (11, 20 1977), p. 5.

55 John Hogan, ‘Reflections on a Visit to Cuba’, Origins: National Catholic Documentary Service, Vol. 9, No. 7 (07, 1979), p. 112.

56 Francisco Oves Fernández, Archbishop of Havana, ‘Address to XI World Festival of Youth and Students, Havana, Cuba, July 28–August 5, 1978’, LADOC, X, No. 2 (11\12 1979), p. 42.

57 Bolívar , op. cit., p. 52.

58 While the 1985 Anuario Pontificio claims there are 3,973,000 Catholics in Cuba out of a population of 10,484,000, an official of the Cuban Conference of Bishops estimated that there were only about 150,000 that were active (IH 67328).

59 Episcopal Commission of Pastoral Ministry, ‘Toward Community Renewal: Evangelized and Evangelizing’, LADOC, VIII, No. 2 (11\12 1977), pp. 42–3.

60 Ibid., p. 45.

61 Interview IH 4731191.

62 Interview IH 4731192.

63 Interview IM 5771112.

64 Hogan , op. cit., p. 110.

65 Interview ISM 472115.

66 Interview IH 37111.

67 Interview IH 47111.

68 Interview IH 371113RD.

69 Interview IH 3711113S.

70 Noonan D. P., ‘Interview with Jaime Ortega Alamino, Archbishop of Havana, July, 1982’, mss., p. 7.

71 Anuario Pontificio, 1985

72 Beckman Joseph F., ‘I Spent Holy Week in Havana’, (1978), mss., p. 34.

73 Noonan , op. cit., np.

74 Hogan , op. cit., p. 111.

75 Campbell J. Gary, ‘La Sociedad cubana esta haciendo lo que siempre hemos pensado que la iglesia debe hace: reportaje sobre dos semanas en Cuba’, (1972), mss., p. 4.

76 Episcopal Conference of Cuba, ‘Cuban Bishops' Peace Plea’, LADOC, Vol. XII, No. 5:40 (05\06, 1982), pp. 42–4.

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