A Faustian bargain
José Azel, in The Miami Herald
The malevolence of the Castro brothers during their five decades regime is well documented: 3,615 executions by firing squad, 1,253 extrajudicial killings, the imprisonment of thousands of political prisoners in subhuman conditions, the 1994 tugboat massacre, the depravation of basic freedoms and the impoverishment of the country’s entire population, countless violations of human rights and much more. Unquestionably, Fidel Castro’s 1962 Armageddon letter to Khrushchev advocating a Soviet preemptive nuclear attack on the United States is an expression of unmitigated evil.
Also known is the gentility and heroism of the Ladies in White, recognized by the European Parliament in 2005 with the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. This group of incredibly brave and devout women attends Mass each Sunday and then silently stands up to the regime by walking through the streets wearing white clothing to symbolize peace.
Both Fidel Castro and the Ladies in White requested an audience with Pope Benedict XVI during his Cuba visit. The Ladies in White requested only a minute of his Holiness’ time. In Joseph Ratzinger seemingly chauvinistic calculus the Ladies in White did not merit his time and Ratzinger elected to disown his most loyal flock on the Island and chose instead to meet with Mephistopheles.
The Church leadership’s obsequiousness in accommodating the Cuban government and its concern with sparing the Castros any political discomfort responds to a Church strategy of gaining space in society for its ecumenical and humanitarian work. The bargain is a dangerous one as the Church has, in fact, made a deal with the devil.
It may very well discover, as did Faust, the protagonist of the classical German legend, that It has surrendered Its moral integrity and that at the end of the term, Mephistopheles will claim his due.
Biology dictates that the end-game for Castroism is not too far in the future. When Castroism ends, the Cuban economy and society will be in deep crisis and in total disarray. These objective conditions will constitute the Cuban collective memory of communism and its leadership, including the memory of the recent sycophancy and closeness of the Church leadership with the communist leadership.
Behavioral economists speak of the “peak-end rule” which states that we judge the past almost entirely on the basis of how the experience was at its peak and at its end. In other words, it is the positive or negative experience at the end of a process that stays with us rather than some net average for the entire duration of the event. In the years to come, when Cubans look into their political rearview mirror they will see the Communist Party and the Catholic Church as effete institutions collaborators to their misery.
At the end of Castroism, prior fondness for Catholicism may be negated and what will be remembered will be inglorious events such as Cardinal Jaime Ortega’s betrayal of the Church’s sanctuary tradition by requesting that the Cuban government evict activists that had taken refuge in the Church, or Pope Benedict’s failure to condemn energetically the human rights abuses of the Castro regime, and to meet with the Ladies in White.
In aligning itself with the Cuban government and not with the Cuban people the Catholic Church’s leadership has miscalculated and entered into a Faustian bargain exchanging its soul for political favors. I long for the courage of the Marist brothers of my youth in Cuba’s Catholic schools. They taught us by day and led us daringly in the anticommunist resistance underground by night. Cuba’s Catholic Church will have limited opportunities in the future to extricate Itself from Its pact with the devil. Let us pray It chooses to do so.
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