Last temptation of Castro

Fidel Castro will be received back into the communion of the Roman Catholic Church during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the island in March, the Italian press is reporting. If true, this is a remarkable story — and one that has yet to catch the attention of editors this side of the Atlantic.

On 1 Feb 2012, La Republicca — [Italy's second largest circulation daily newspaper, La Republicca follows a center-left political line and is strongly anti-clerical; not anti-Catholic per se but a critic of the institutional church] — reported that as death approaches, the octogenarian communist has turned to God for solace.

ABC’s Global Note news blog is the only U.S. general interest publication I have found that has reported this story.  It referenced the La Republicca story and said that Castro’s

daughter Alina is quoted as saying “During this last period, Fidel has come closer to religion: he has rediscovered Jesus at the end of his life. It doesn’t surprise me because dad was raised by Jesuits.” The article quotes an unidentified high prelate in the Vatican who is working on the Pope’s Cuba trip: “Fidel is at the end of his strength. Nearly at the end of his life. His exhortations in the party paper Granma, are increasingly less frequent. We know that in this last period he has come closer to religion and God.”

Some Italian websites have even speculated as to when Fidel will make his confession and credo — setting the date as 27 March 2012 at 17:30 when the two ottantacinquenni, Pope Benedict XVI and Castro, will meet at the Palacio de la Revolución when the pope makes his official visit to the head of state, Raul Castro.

During Pope John Paul II’s 1998 visit to Cuba, Castro attended mass, but did not receive the Eucharist or give voice to Christian beliefs. If his daughter’s story is true and Castro returns to the church it will be very interesting to see how it plays out across the media.

One issue that might be raised is Castro’s excommunication. One of the recurring errors of religion reporting GetReligion has addressed is the misconceptions about excommunication. The overwhelming majority of those who are excommunicated have not been formally and individually censured by the church, but have followed a course of action that led to their self-excommunication. Castro’s excommunication is the same, but over time the lack of clarity in the 1963 press reports have hardened into conventional wisdom.

The Miami Herald has a well written and thorough report on the state of the Roman Catholic Church in Cuba that states as fact that John XXIII excommunicated Castro, while the La Republicca article quotes an unnamed Vatican official as saying:

True in 1963 [Castro]was excommunicated by the Pope, but then that measure was a measure almost automatic for those who professed Communism.

However, Friday’s Vatican Insider column in La Stampa reports there is no evidence that Castro was excommunicated by Pope John XXIII.

There is also much talk about the excommunication bestowed on him by John XXIII, who is now a Blessed pope. What has sparked these rumours, is the excommunication decree for communists, published by Pius XII in 1949 and renewed in 1959 by Pope Roncalli.

Indeed, the news regarding the excommunication decreed by the “good Pope” against Fidel and dated 3 January 1962, can be found practically all over the web. What happened that day? The first man to mention excommunication was Dino Staffa who was working as Secretary of the Congregation for Seminaries at the time, a renowned scholar of canonical law. Paul VI allegedly promoted him to the Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura and then made him a cardinal in 1967. Newspapers presented him as a “high-ranking prelate” of the Secretariat of State, even though he did not in fact hold any position in said office. What is more, Mgr. Staffa’s reasons were not related to communism, but to violence against bishops. The prelate, an expert in canonical law, essentially said that Castro should consider himself excommunicated by virtue of the Code of Canonical Law, which automatically prescribes this very serious punishment to those who are violent against bishops or who collaborate to carry out such acts. The excommunication therefore boiled down to the opinion of a scholar of canonical law, not to an excommunication decreed at that moment.

In other words, Castro’s was an excommunication latae sententiae, “by the very commission of the offense.” No action was taken by the church to excommunicate Castro. He did it himself.

The La Republicca article closes its report on Castro’s return to the church by stating:

In Havana there waiting for the arrival of Benedict XVI. The Church in Cuba is loved and respected. So is the government for its broad social interventions.

The church can thus serve as a “mediator” between the people and the government in the post-Castro era, La Republicca argues. I think it is a bit of a stretch to say the government is loved and respected for its “social interventions”, but La Republicca is a left-wing European paper and its default position is that Cuba’s experiment with socialism is a moral good.

Which ever way it goes, the Castro/repentance story will be fascinating to watch. What does it mean for a dictator to seek  repentance? What does forgiveness mean? Is moral redemption possible in this day and age? How will those who have been harmed by the regime respond? What about the prisoners of conscience who remain in Cuban jails — a Cuban political prisoner, Wilmar Villar, died on 21 January 2012 after a 50 day hunger strike — what does an old man’s repentance have to say about that?

What say you GetReligion readers?

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  • Charles Curtis

    I say that this, if true, is great news.

    “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance..” Luke 15:7

    Every Christian should hope for Castro’s salvation and be glad for his re-conversion, and pray that he make a very good confession. Anyone who condemns Fidel had better be careful that he not judge himself thereby. Very few of us these days (post Iraq war, etc.) are not guilty of advocating or being otherwise complicit in massive violence and injustice in the name of ideology.

    I hope the press marks this for the very good news that it is. I suspect the Right Wing will be less than pleased, and that Fidel will not be appearing on EWTN’s The World Over with Raymond Arroyo like Newt and Callista and Father Sirico of the Libertarian Acton Institute.. But then, Libertarianism is just about as Catholic as Communism is, if you ask me. But then, I’m just a chump in the pews, who will back the Holy Father in welcoming any old sinner (like Newt) back into the fold..

  • Jerry

    This is a very interesting story to me and I can’t wait to see how it plays out. Not only is it a personal story about Fidel, but I have to wonder how it will affect religion in Cuba and even how it affects how exiles in Miami view Fidel.

  • sari

    I, too, will be interested to see where this leads. As a native of Miami and one who lived through the exodus of Cubans to the mainland, I don’t believe it will much affect the ex-pats whose heads still live in Cuba even as their bodies live here. Many were wealthy under the very corrupt Batista and long to resurrect a similar regime.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    I would love to read it, when translated into English.

    I would also love to read a more general article on lapsed Catholics returning to Christ as the end draws near.

    Depending on what actually happens, the other shoe to drop will be the response of the ex-pats in the U.S. Will they rejoice with the angels or be like Jonah and sulk?

    And of course (as mentioned), what happens to the remaining political prisoners. What happens if Raul Castro reconciles to the Catholic Faith? He apparently has the actual power?

    What happens if the U.S. gets over the history and ends the embargo? And if Cubans get a taste of American dollars? I know that’s a separate issue, but when one domino falls, might another?

  • Bill P.

    If Fidel Castro receives Communion after speaking with the Holy Father, the visuals would have global reverberations. And if Cuban Catholics are inspired by the visit, we could see a moment similar to John Paul II’s 1979 visit to Poland, when Communist leaders listened to hundreds of thousands of Poles chant “We Want God” at Mass in Victory Square – a name that took on new meaning after the pontiff’s visit.

    Should any of this be the case, it will be fascinating to watch and read the coverage and compare it to how the media covered JPII in 1979 (and thereafter).

    Of course, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. But the place of the Christian motifs of sin and redemption (largely ignored in the Josh Hamilton story) and of the place of faith in the public square (a timely topic here in the states) should form the genetic code of any coverage of the pope’s trip to Cuba.

    Lastly, I’m sure the Chinese authorities will be watching, too. Now that’s a story worth covering.

  • Frank Lopez

    Really? You all know that Catholicism in Cuba means alliance and complicity with the Communist Cuban government for more than 54 years. We Cuban do not trust the Catholic church. Did the Cuban Catholic church defend dissidents in Cuba? Did they oppose to firing squads, or free press or torture of prisoners, or restrictions of assembly, or forced labor camps or political executions? No. Both personalities represent the devil: Fidel and the Pope. Hitler was not excommunicated by the church and he was a genocidal mass murderer. Fidel’s right hand executioner Che Guevara did concentration camps like the one in La Cabaña prison where hundreds of people were take to the firing squad without fair trials. Fidel was excommunicated by the church in 1962 but not for his crimes but for his offensive language against Catholics. We have a saying: “Got creates them and devil joints them”. Hope to have a free Cuba some day without Fidel and without Catholics.

  • http://none Thomas R. Clark

    I hope and pray that it’s true.

  • Isidro

    From the theological point of view, verbal repentance by a person suffering from Dementia is not a clear cut act of constriction,and for full absolution (prior to Communion)a radical reversal of behavior would be required.

    Whoever is promoting this story is very ignorant of Castro’s
    history (even his daughter does not seem well informed about his relationship with the Jesuits, etc.) and very wrong.

    Please stop pumping up Castro’s image of a hero. He is evil. Communism is intrinsically perverse. So is Castro.

  • Hector_St_Clare

    Re: I think it is a bit of a stretch to say the government is loved and respected for its “social interventions”,

    I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch, it’s pretty consistent with the testimony of scholars who have visited Cuba, and with the observations of friends of mine who have done volunteer work. I think it’s probably fair to say the Castro regime has always been broadly popular.

    Having said that, if this news is true, it’s great news. I’ve been praying for this for years.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    This post puts me in mind of anther excellent and helpful post, the subject of which will be relevant in sorting out the Catholic situation in Cuba. There might even be enough material to form another chapter in the book on accommodation, collaboration, and resistance suggested by that other post.

  • Bain Wellington

    It’s too bad the dislike button is off for Frank Lopez @6. His wild and unsubstantiated argument ends in a base vulgarity. I can get enough of that in other blogs without finding it here too.

  • Regina Anavy

    What a hypocrite! Too little, too late.

  • Jon in the Nati

    “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance..” Luke 15:7


  • Frank Lopez

    Mr. Wellington, We Cubans, Vietnamese, etc. are among the few countries that in order to enter to our own country, we need a permit, a visa from the Cuban government and if they give you a permit is just for 15 days or so. We are not allowed to stay for good if we decide to do so. I was deported from Cuba and in order to leave my country I had to sign documents that they do not allow you to read but it says your leaving is for good. I spend 5 years in jail for illegal trip to USA and desert from the navy. When I was released from jail, I went to the Catholic church to denounce human rights violation like torture, stamps (a triangle) on your ID’s, etc. They closed doors. I’ve been an exile in America now for 23 years and waiting for that nightmare to finish like the Communist regime in Europe but it looks like anytime you see the end, capitalist countries come and help the regime to stay in power.
    Go to and see part of our history.

  • northcoast

    “Testimony of scholars … observations of friends …” I’m reminded of three or four fellow students (U of Illinois) who had a tour of the Dominican Republic courtesy of the Trujillo government just months before the 1961 upheaval. They had only good things to report about conditions in the DR.

  • sari


    It’s important to note what life was like for the average Cuban pre-Castro. Do they enjoy a standard of living comparable to ours? Absolutely not. Are the wealthy as well-to-do? Nope, but they comprised only a very tiny and privileged segment of the population under Batista. By any standard, most Cubans live better and have greater access to the basic necessities than they did before Castro took power. The people who were really dispossessed and had to fear for their lives were those who profited from the Batista regime; they comprised the first waves of immigration to Miami–doctors, lawyers, professors, businessmen.

    A more apt comparison is between Trujillo and Batista, not Castro.

  • Hector


    Excellent points.,

  • http://!)! Passing By

    I’m in general agreement with Sari’s post, except that for telling the story (journalism!), it will be more helpful to refer to “working class” Cubans, rather than “the average Cuban. “Working class” in this case might not be accurate, but stands in for whatever class of people benefited from the Castro revolution.

    It will also be helpful also to distinguish between people who made a comfortable living under the Batista regime due to their earned professional status – doctor, lawyer, professors, businessmen – and those who lived comfortably from the corruption of the Batista regime. Presuming corruption on the part of the middle and upper middle class is way too simplistic. Some were corrupt, some weren’t. Some of “poor” were also corrupt, using the revolution for their personal gain. Romanticizing or demonizing any group of people is seldom helpful.

  • Montjoie

    I think you mean “prisoners of conscience” not “conscious.” Nice article though.

    • geoconger

      Corrected .. thank you

  • Northcoast

    Sari, my point would be that people living in a country with controlled news media and political prisons are not likely to complain out loud, and I wouldn’t expect to be able to travel freely in such a country to meet people who might complain or to see signs of repression.

    My heart goes out to people whose lives only change when a new brutal dictatorship replaces their old brutal dictatorship. Getting back to religion and assuming the story is correct, I’d be more impressed if Fidel made his confession to a poor priest who had been a guest of the prison system.

  • sari

    Objections noted. What I’ve heard from Cuban-Americans who have visited Cuba to stay with and see family has been that living conditions, while not on par with those in the U.S., are substantially better than they were pre-Castro. With enough back and forth, a pretty accurate picture emerges. Living as we do in an open society, there is little basis for comparison; our poor are poor for different reasons.

    Passing By, average was what I meant, though peasant would have been more accurate during the Batista years. I took a look at Wikipedia and it confirmed my childhood memories. The professionals, educated, and wealthy left first. The less well-to-do left later, though it’s unclear how many left due to the repressiveness of the Castro regime and how many left for the carrots offered by the American government. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for instance, came specifically to escape religious persecution, but Cuban “refugees” were offered unprecedented financial support, which generated tremendous resentment, particularly in Miami’s poor black community. All of this was to demonstrate how desirous Cubans were to live in a democratic rather than communist state. Sorry. Had Elian been Mexican he would have been deported without comment no matter how many demonstrations were staged on his behalf.

    While it’s important to cover the Pope’s visit to Cuba (as it is cover the Pope’s visits, period), it’s unclear what difference Castro’s reconciliation (is that the right word?) with the RCC will have on Cuba, the church in Cuba, or Cuban expats. It would be good for journalists to research and include a summary of the history of relations between Cuba and the United States, with particular attention to the latter’s treatment of Cuban refugees relative to refugees from other countries during the same time period (Haiti, for instance) as well as to reference the position of the church under Castro.

  • Alex Fraguglia

    Maybe Fidel is fearing the Hell and not trully repented. He must pay for his acts whatever his repent or not, there is too much blood in his hand. He must put Cuba free first, release all politics prisioners and put himself on trial….and then..we will see if hes repent or not.

  • Passing By

    Peasant seems a more functional desriptor. Thanks.

  • eladio cepero

    Luke 15.7 is great, and the truth.
    Also very pertaining James 1.22
    Which one will be?

  • Lulu

    @Sari, I beg to differ with you – not ALL professionals who left in the early 60′s were for Batista – Batista was far from perfect and many knew this. My parents were professionals and left because Fidel and his regime are communist Marxists and repressed, killed and tortured all who defied him and his doctrine. Be clear on facts before you write such nonesense. You are denouncing the fact that Fidel and all his puppets are criminals and will be remembered as such by most Cubans.

  • Outraged Cuban

    @sari, I wonder where you got the information that life in Cuba after Castro is way better for Cubans than before him. This is what the Castro propaganda has been hammering constantly for the last 53 years. But that does not make it true. Relatives of Cuban-Americans who visit Cuba MIGHT live slightly better than then (only on the material aspect, since they still don’t have any freedoms or rights), but that’s only because their relatives in the US keep on sending money to them. The real Cuba is for those Cubans who don’t have any relatives abroad to send them money. They live in really miserable and pitiful conditions. And this is not right-wing propaganda. Sorry Sari, please read on to find out from UN, WHO and ILO statistical info, what was the real situation of Cuba before Castro. In health, education, average salary, worker’s rights, number of newspapers, radio and TV sets per capita and many other issues, Cuba was among the top in the world. Please google to rank how is Cuba faring right now on the same issues. Castro is a murderer and however forgiving the Pope may want to be, accepting him back in the Church’s arms would be a real insult to all Cubans that have died as a consecuence of his regime. I really hope that doesn’t happen.

  • Herman Harmelink III

    Brings to mind Molotov’s reconciliation with the Orthodox Church when he was 94 years old, shortly before his death

  • Larry

    Nothing coming out of Castro’s mouth should be taken seriously. It is an old story; some evil wreck of a human suddenly has a clearing of conscience in their last remaining few years of life. Bah! This is another instance of a “Just in Case” person. Just in case God is real, the slob doesn’t want to burn in hell for eternity. So, right all of you bleary eyed fools can get all excited that a piece of crap like Castro now moves toward finding Jesus! One poster to this blog even used the term that Castro is “Re-converting!” how utterly ridiculous as if true Christianity is something you can find and then lose and then find again. All this really proves to me is what a total bunch of moron idiots many people in Christiandom are. You don’t know your Bible! You are contaminated by all of the crappola of organized religion! You have about as much grasp of God Almighty as you have a handful of dirt from planet Mars. And just why is it that all of you stupid idiot Catholics need this priest or that holy father to tell you what to do anyway? Are all of you illiterate and unable to read the Bible for yourselves? Pull your heads out and figure out that the Nicene Convention was just about the biggest charade in the history of the world. It was a load of clap-trap where nonsense like praying to the virgin Mary was first idealized. If you want answers: Read the Bible for heavens sake! Heaven will not be a crowded place. There is not an extenuating “Methodology” for going to heaven. You either have a come to Jesus moment by the call of the Holy Spirit; accept Christ as Savior and are baptized in the Holy Spirit or NOT. There is no middle ground; no kind-sorta. And if you are one of these fools who thinks you are a Christian by osmosis or you cannot recall the day of your accepting Christ; you might want to invest in an asbestos suit because you’re going to need it. Heaven will not be crowded; hell will!

  • AuntTee

    From a Catholic standpoint, the Pope is required to offer absolution and Holy Communion to a REPENTANT and sorrowful sinner -emphasis on REPENTANT- he in fact has no choice but to hear the sinner and accept that his intentions are sincere. But there’s a big catch, the sinner’s repentance must include his/her absolute intention to not commit the sin ever again. If, however, the sinner asks for forgiveness and absolution simply for show or as an act of publicity, he is then committing SACRILEGE, and his guilt will be worse than had he never confessed his sins. He in fact condemns himself.

    The fact is that if Fidel approaches the Pope to ask for the Sacrament of ‘reconciliation,’ the Pope must accept to hear him. The ultimate result of Fidel’s sincere repentance or hypocrisy and sacrilege will be plain to see if his latter actions are inconsistent with the forgiveness he sought.

    Further, repentance and absolution does not grant Fidel a free pass into heaven. The bible clearly teaches that a person will be judged at the end of his life and given a sentence according to his actions while alive. That sentence is however the privilege of God, not of men however incensed, hurt, humiliated, they might have been.

    Neither will it be an automatic descent into eternal hell however sinful and cruel the person might have been, if he sincerely, deeply and truthfully asks for mercy to God. That is precisely what the function of ‘purgatory’ is.



  • Veronica

    I am not in ANY way forgiving this murderer and monster serving the devil, of fidel castro. However, the only one that is able to forgive us is GOd. and HE knows and will know at the time that fidel can not and will not sincerely repent. It will be too long to even try to explain what Cuba was before, and what it is now. To Sari and others here,, please inform yourself before you write about what you do not know..maybe you will like to move to Cuba for a while, BUT try to get a job there and NO DOLLARS and see how you like it. Do not forget to stand on any street and yell real loud “Abajo Fidel Asesino Comunista” good luck. then you could write about inside Cuba’s jails.

  • Dan

    Gee, Larry, tell us what you really think. Goodness, sir. Get a grip.

    As to the news story itself, AuntTee has offered perhaps the best reply in the comments section. It is basic Catholicism 101. Now, anyone can be converted, even murderers and homosexuals. And if degraded souls like that can be forgiven, so can communists.

    Yes, Castro was responsible for horrors. They are awful and he will pay some price for that in the afterlife, either a long stretch in Purgatory or, alas, in Hell, depending upon himself. If I were him, and was serious about coming back to the Church, and I was in failing health, I wouldn’t wait for the Pope in March. I would seek out a good priest now. But that is Fidel’s decision.

    No matter how much evil someone has done to us, our family or our land we should never be angry at their coming to the Church. As much as I loathe the monster Obama, and all the creeps and poofs who lord it over us here in America, I would still be happy if they became Catholics and changed their ways. Not “dicey” conversions like those of Newt Gingrich or Tony Blair, but real conversions (and who knows? Maybe even war-mongers like Blair and Gingrich could respond to Grace).

    So for the good of the world, for Cubans and for Castro’s soul, let us hope the story is true.

  • Jack Durish

    I couldn’t help speculating on how this scene would play out as soon as I saw this story.

    How will those in Cuba react if he attempts to return to the Mother Church after denying them access for so many decades?

  • Ramiro C. Acosta

    My dear Sari the 2nd sentence in the 1st paragraph from your #22 is TOTALLY INACCURATE. From that point on, you are an absolute ignorant (this is not an insult – please look up the meaning of the word) when it comes to the reality of the Cuban situation: BEFORE AND AFTER JAN. 1, 1959.

    Re-read “Outraged Cuban” (#27) and don’t take his/her word for it. Do some serious research and you should concur that those are TRUE FACTS.

    Go back to Dan’s reply (#33) to our brilliant, well-versed in Bible matters, atheist Larry (#29) to whom, after opening with “Just in case God is real”, states that we Christians, “stupid idiot Catholics” are “a total bunch of moron idiots”. He referred to AuntTee’s comments on # 30. She had perfect remarks. And by the way . . . . . . . may God bless you all in the process !!!

  • Jorge y Maria del Carmen Garcia

    No question this is a very complicated issue given the magnitutude and severity of the crimes Castro has committed against humanity, faith and God directly. Those of us who fled his communist regime seem to know more of the details of those crimes, which most of the world community is simply unaware.

    We are extremely skeptical of his desire and motives for repenting. Is it genuine, or simply another political opportunity to seize the world stage and try one last spin on his failed government? If his motives are indeed true, there are several things he can enact/suggest to somewhat heal the sins of the past. First, an immediate release of the thousands of political prisoners still rotting in Cuban jails who even basic rights have been violated for decades. Next, a call for free elections absent from the island for more than half a century. Finally, genuine support for the democratic process enabling the people to experience the benefits of free, representative government; for most, for the first time in their lives.

    Realizing his actions will fall far short of the above, we will pray for him and hope he finds the peace he denied so many and for so long. Forgiving someone such as Castro, with so much blood and tears on his hand, is one of the most difficult things to do. Indeed , it is not our place to judge, but the wrongs are so many, it is next to impossible to forgive, and we will never forget.

  • Ricardo

    Besides everything it was told above also remember that back in 1961 Fidel expelled all priests, nuns, brothers and sister from all Catholic Orders from Cuba. He made them board a ship and send them to Spain even there were many cuban born priests and nuns. Also he confiscated all the Catholic Schools and Churches and even now the place that was a Seminar for the Marist Brothers in Cuba ( Villa Marista) was confiscated also and it is the Headquarters of the G2 (Seguridad del Estado) where thousands of cuban people have been tortured and murdered through the last 53 years. Since his coming into power in 1959 he started persecuting cristians catholic because we were against comunism and we had to leave the Island because of our creed. Many cubans died at firing squads yelling VIVA CRISTO REY ( LONG LIVE CHRIST)