President Raúl Castro
President Raúl Castro, younger brother of ex-President Fidel Castro, recently met with the Holy Father, Pope Francis, and promised he would come back to the Church if the Pope continued his work. Some might say this could be a conditional statement on Castro’s part based upon the belief that the Holy Father agrees with socialist economics. This was a common claim that many brought up after His Holiness, Pope Francis wrote his encyclical Evangelii Gaudium in which he mentioned “an economy of exclusion and inequality” (no. 53). Conservative political pundits from Rush Limbaugh, to Michael Savage, to libertarian Glenn Beck, all accused the Pope of being a Marxist based upon this statement without looking at the context.
I do blame the liberal media for this. The media has been on the Pope’s words, taking parts and interpreting it according to their needs. So of course, when conservative pundits saw media reports on his words about “an economy of exclusion and inequality” and how it apparently supports Obamacare — which they argue is socialist — they are going to assume he is socialist. I can understand the concern although it is misplaced. They do not look at several things: (1) Pope Francis is Argentinian, (2) Argentina is part of Latin America, (3) Latin America is known for its political and economic corruption, (4) his words were in Spanish. Here is where liberal, libertarian and conservative pundits got it wrong. The liberals want to assume as they always do that there is a whole lot of rejection of the poor and while I would not say it does not exist it certainly does not show like it does in many other societies. There is a major gap in the Hispanic world between the rich and the poor and the lack of middle class citizens. Many Hispanic nations are third world countries where they are led by corrupt politicians (who largely are socialists): in these countries many are left in shacks with little food, water or clothing. So, the Pope speaks from personal experience when he mentions inequality and adds that “we know that there is enough food for everyone and that hunger is the result of a poor distribution of goods and income” (no. 191). So, this is the root of the inequality mentioned by His Holiness, not the inequality of material possessions. Starvation is relatively low in the U.S. while it is larger in Latin America. Sure he might be criticizing capitalism by saying “some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world” (no. 54), but that doesn’t mean he supports socialism per se. He’s a far stretch from saying the government has the obligation to redistribute goods; he wrote how he understands Catholic social doctrine on economics.
Saint John Paul II wrote, “The Church has rejected the totalitarian and atheistic ideologies associated in modern times with ‘communism’ or ‘socialism'” and simultaneously has “refused to accept, in the practice of ‘capitalism,’ individualism and the absolute primacy of the law of the marketplace over human labor” (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2425). The Church prefers what she calls subsidiarity and in “the principle of subsidiarity, neither the state nor any larger society should substitute itself for the initiative and responsibility of individuals and intermediary bodies” (no. 1854). So, it is somewhere between socialism and capitalism.
The Church doctrine of “subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism” (no. 1885). Socialism is about collectivism; so the Church rejects socialism and intervention is kept minimal (ibid). Leo XIII taught subsidiarity and though “no one is commanded to distribute to others that which is required for his own needs and those of his household; nor even to give away what is reasonably required to keep up becomingly his condition in life” (cf. Rerum Novarum, no. 22), he stated Saint Paul “hesitated not to undertake laborious journeys in order to carry the alms of the faithful to the poorer Christians” (no. 29) and “Tertullian calls these contributions, given voluntarily by Christians in their assemblies, deposits of piety”, and hence the Church “intervenes directly in behalf of the poor, by setting on foot and maintaining many associations which she knows to be efficient for the relief of poverty” (ibid).
Ex-President Fidel Castor has always been known for smoking Cuban cigars
So now back to the Castro brothers. Fidel Castro became Prime Minister of Cuba in 1959 after he was aided by Che Guevara, his brother Raúl Castro, and the Soviet Union. With their help he led a succesful coup de grace against the Batista administration and toppled Fulgencio Batista. The Castro brothers were leading members of the Communist Party of Cuba and were both Catholics, but the Catholic Church condemned communism as Blessed John XXIII put it that “no Catholic could subscribe even to moderate Socialism” (cf. Mater et Magistra, no. 34). In 1962 Blessed John XXIII announced the excommunication of Fidel Castro from the Catholic Church or so it is frequently stated.
Either way, Raúl and Fidel were not practicing Catholics at least by the time of first Castro regime. Once Fidel took over, Cuba became a one-party socialist state much like its mother state the Soviet Union. Censorship of the media became intensified as they government sought to crack down on dissenters who questioned socialism and the Castor administration. Churches were prohibited from external display of piety; Catholics were expected to accept Marxist-Leninist doctrine which went against Catholic doctrine that socialism works “the poor man’s envy of the rich” (Leo XIII, “Rerum Novarum”, no. 4) and thus confuses them “with perverted teachings” (Blessed Pius IX, “Nostis et Nobiscus”) such as materialism (rf. Rerum Novarum, no. 42). The Cuban government has since then been accused of torturing inmates and executing them without a fair trial. On top of that it has put many restrictions on Cubans to prevent them from leaving the country.
Fidel has been praised by many socialist leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Evo Morales and Ahmed ben Bella, even making an alliance with the late Hugo Chávez, ex-President of Venezuela and member of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. Little by little things have gotten better and the Church has once again received the right to practice publicly its festivities and how Raúl is saying he might come back to the Church. Hopefully his promise will be sincere and not based on the assumption that Pope Francis is changing Church doctrine in favor of socialism. As a leader of gradually decaying dictatorship, Castro might need to do a lot of penance.