What is your opinion about the embargo against Cuba?
“The end to the embargo forms part of the negotiations between the United States and Cuba. The two presidents have spoken about it, I hope an agreement can be reached that satisfies both sides. Regarding the position of the Holy See on the embargo, the previous Popes expressed themselves and not just about this case. The Church’s social doctrine speaks about this. I will not speak specifically about this in Congress but I will speak in general about the agreements as a sign of progress in harmonious co-existence”.
There is talk of fifteen Cuban dissidents being arrested. Did you want to meet them?
“I have had no news about the arrest. I like to meet everyone, everyone is God’s child, every encounter enriches us. Of course I wasn’t going to hold a private audience, not just with dissidents but with others too, including heads of state who asked for an audience. I now some telephone calls were made from the Nunciature to some dissidents to tell them that I would be glad to greet them when I arrived at Havana cathedral. I greeted everyone but no one introduced themselves as a dissident.”
When Fidel Castro was in power the Church suffered a great deal. Did he seem repentant?
“Repentance is a very intimate thing, it is to do with one’s conscience. During the meeting we talked about the Jesuits he had met: I took him a book and an CD by Fr. Llorente as a gift, I’m sure he will appreciate them. As far as the past is concerned, we only talked about the Jesuit college and about how they made him work hard. We also talked a lot about the “Laudato Si’” encyclical. He is very interested in ecology and is concerned about the environment. It was an informal and spontaneous meeting.”
There have been three papal visits to Cuba in the space of just a few years: is it because it is “suffering” from some kind of disease?
“No. The first visit by John Paul II was a historic but normal visit: he visited many countries that were aggressive towards the Church. The second visit by Benedict XVI was also normal. Mine happened a bit by chance because my idea originally had been to enter the US from the Mexico border. But going to Mexico without visiting Our Lady of Guadalupe was impossible. Then came the announcement (of the thaw in US-Cuban relations, Ed.) after a process that lasted almost a year. And I said: let’s stop of in Cuba before going to the US. Not because it has any rare “diseases” that other countries do not have. I would not interpret the three visits that way. I visited Brazil for example: John Paul II went there three or four times but it doesn’t mean it had any strange disease. I am glad I visited Cuba.”
Can the Catholic Church do something to help them?
“The Cuban Church has worked at putting together a list of prisoners who could be pardoned. More than 3000 people were granted a pardon. Other cases are being looked into. Someone said to me: it would be great if we eliminated life sentences! It is almost like a death sentence in disguise, you’re there dying your days away without the hope of liberation. Another possibility is for general pardons to be granted every two to three years. The Church has worked and continues to work on this, it has requested pardons and will continue to do so.”
Your denunciations against the inequity of the global economic system have sparked some bizarre reactions: sections of American society have asked themselves whether the Pope is Catholic...
“A cardinal friend of mine told me about a lady that went up to him, very concerned, a very Catholic woman, a little rigid but a good woman. And she asked him whether it was true that the Bible talks about the Antichrist. Then she asked whether is talks about an anti-Pope. When he asked her why she was asking these questions, she replied: ‘I am certain Francis is an anti-Pope because he doesn’t wear red shoes.’ As regards me being a communist: I am certain I have not said anything that is not mentioned in the Church’s social doctrine. It is me who is a follower of the Church and I don’t think I’ve got that wrong. Maybe something I said made me come across as a lefty but it would be a misinterpretation. I am willing to recite the Creed if needs be...”
On your last trip to Latin America you strongly criticised the capitalist system. In Cuba you were softer on the communist system. Why?
“In the speeches I pronounced in Cuba I always referred to the Church’s social doctrine. I was clear about the things that need changing, I didn’t sugar-coat anything. As far as unrestrained capitalism is concerned, I didn’t say anything I did not already say in the “Evangelii Gaudium” and the “Laudato Si’” encyclical. My trip to Cuba was pastoral and my interventions were homilies. The language I used was more pastoral whereas in the encyclical I had to deal with more technical things”.