Is Francis Ready for a Confrontation at the Cuban Altar?

Catholic and international media are abuzz over Pope Francis’ trip to Cuba, the third consecutive pope to visit this island thoroughly destroyed by the two Castro brothers. The Castros have utterly ruined this onetime bastion of Roman Catholicism with a cruel, morally unconscionable Marxist-Leninist atheism. A dozen Hurricane Katrinas could not have generated the mass wreckage of lives and souls unleashed by these two disastrous sons of a rosary-reciting mother and Jesuit education. (Fidel later shut down his Jesuit high school, along with all other Catholic schools.) If your thing is social justice, then turn your eye to Cuba, an island where two mad siblings systematically robbed millions of poor citizens and their children and grandchildren of basic opportunity, rights, property, decency.

The media coverage of the upcoming visit has been shallow at best, an unwitting showcase of the rampant ignorance of communism we’ve tragically come to expect from consecutive generations of elites educated in our woeful universities. One widely circulated report, by Reuters, pointed fingers at the “deeply conservative” clergy who existed in Cuba in 1959, when Fidel took over. Apparently, these reactionaries made a confrontation with fun-loving Fidel “inevitable” once he and his merry rebels overthrew Fulgencio Batista. As a source for this assertion, the reporter quoted a “historian” at the University of Havana. “They were imbued with anti-communism from the Spanish civil war,” said this “historian” of these wayward clergy. “They sided with the United States and supporters of the old Batista regime and so the trouble began as a political, not religious, confrontation.”

This is nonsense—easily recognizable nonsense. And it’s precisely the sort of propaganda line that reporters should naturally expect to be fed by a professor at a fully unfree, totally Castro-censored and intimidated “university.”

A much savvier analysis is an excellent piece in the National Catholic Register by Victor Gaetan, who knows the history of murder and mayhem left by the Castros. “Is the Catholic Church allowing itself to be used by the survivalist Castros to legitimize a morally corrupt regime?” asks Gaetan, with good reason.

Likewise, Nicholas Hahn of Real Clear Religion wrote an op-ed for USA Today emphasizing the Castro regime’s never-ending persecution of religious believers. “Many times, we haven’t been able to get to church,” Hahn quotes one Cuban. “The few who actually do make it to church have been detained for over five hours. They have been beaten.”

Of course, they have. That has been standard operating procedure since 1959.

That said, there’s now suddenly a supposed glimmer of hope radiating from Cuba’s boat-less shores. (Boats have long been banned in Cuba because the inhabitants immediately use them to escape.) And what is that? Well, as you’ve no doubt heard, Raul Castro claims he is considering converting to the faith. That’s right. The motivation for this Raul-on-the-road to Havana is the younger Castro’s unflagging adoration of Pope Francis: “If the pope continues this way,” said Raul of Francis’ views, “I will go back to praying and go back to the church. I’m not joking.” Raul says he has “read all the speeches of the pope” and his “commentaries.” Francis’ message, Castro believes, is one he can finally endorse from the Vatican. It’s so alluring to him that he claims to be on the verge of a possible return to the Church.

All of which, alas, brings me to the main reason I’m writing here today—namely, an intriguing question no one has answered for me: What if Raul, a dictator in the habit of getting what he wants, indeed decides to convert to the Catholic Church and, shockingly, manifests this new ardor by presenting himself at the altar before Pope Francis to receive Holy Communion—and without confession or adequate preparation?

Could that happen? Would Raul Castro countenance such an act of moral effrontery? Are you kidding me? Of course, he would.

For decades Raul and his big brother shut down churches, jailed nuns and priests, monitored every Mass, labeled Catholics “social scum,” banned Christmas, and on and on. Inappropriately strolling to an altar for communion is small potatoes after that litany of temerity and vulgarity. The Castro boys have operated for over a half-century as absolute, unadulterated, dictatorial, communist thugs. This man and his brother have enough mortal sin on their souls to stretch from Havana to Hades. Short of a good six-hour session in the soul box with the holiest priest in the Western Hemisphere, there is no way this individual could suddenly materialize at the altar and properly receive the Eucharist in any remote state of good conscience.

What about it? Could it happen?

Nicholas Hahn seems to have considered this possibility. “As for Raul Castro, he vows to attend ‘all’ the pope’s planned Masses in Cuba,” writes Hahn. “But because papal diplomacy hasn’t worked out too well for Cubans, Francis could exercise some spiritual leadership and deny Castro communion at Mass in the same way Castro denies freedom for the people of Cuba.”

Sure he could. But “could” isn’t enough. Really, Francis must deny communion to Castro, unless the despot has taken all steps to repent and make himself worthy. Has Raul done that? Not that I know of. Does Francis know?

So, again, here’s the big question: What if? What if Raul walks to the altar rail? Is Francis ready to deny him in front of all of Cuba and its state-controlled cameras and those of the entire world? That would be quite a tense spectacle for a pope known for a widely reported refusal to “judge.”

Is the Vatican ready for this? I hope this has been considered, because it darn well could happen. Pope Francis better be ready for a potential political-spiritual fiasco in Cuba.

Editor’s note: Pictured above is Raul Castro and Pope Francis at the Vatican May 10, 2015. (Photo credit: CNS photo.)

Paul Kengor

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Paul Kengor is Professor of Political Science at Grove City College, executive director of The Center for Vision & Values, and author of many books including The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor and Takedown: From Communists to Progressives, How the Left Has Sabotaged Family and Marriage (2015). His new book, A Pope and a President explores the extraordinary relationship between Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, and their joint effort to defeat Soviet communism.

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