2. Despatch From the Embassy in Cuba to the Department of State 1

No. 539

SUBJECT

  • Attitude of the Roman Catholic Church in the Present Political Situation in Cuba

There is enclosed a memorandum of recent conversations2 between an officer of the Embassy and an American resident in Habana, concerning the attitude of the Roman Catholic Church in the present political situation in Cuba. The source feels on the basis of recent events in which he has participated, and the conversations he has had with prominent members of the Catholic hierarchy in Cuba, that the Catholic Church is opposed to the present Government of Cuba and approves of the revolutionary activity of groups such as the “26th of July” Movement of Fidel Castro Ruz. The source is disturbed by the information, advised the Catholic officials with whom he is in contact that he felt obliged to inform the Embassy, and says that he was told that those officials wanted him to do so.

If the Catholic Church has indeed taken a stand such as that outlined by the source, it is a development of great importance which will heavily influence future developments in this country. However, without rejecting the possibility of such a happening, the Embassy is not prepared to accept it as a fact on the basis of the information now available. There seems no reason to question the accuracy of the basic points of the story, covering such things as the injuries of De Blanck,3 his protection by the Catholic Church, his treatment by the source, and the names of those Catholic officials the source has spoken with. But we feel that the conclusions reached by the source do not necessarily follow from his experience as recounted to the Embassy. It seems entirely possible that the Catholic officials involved have been motivated solely by humanitarian considerations, and that their actions are not based on any position which the Catholic Church has taken in the present political situation in Cuba. Among the considerations which would support that conclusion are the following:

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Father Spiralli4 is well known to several officers of the Embassy. If he wished word of a position taken by the Catholic Church to reach the Embassy, it seems reasonable to assume that he would speak directly to one of his friends on the staff, rather than use an intermediary. Father Spiralli has been the driving force behind the establishment and growth of the Catholic University of Villaneuva in Habana. He and those associated with him have made strenuous efforts to keep the University and its students disassociated from the current political agitation, fearing that otherwise the University might be closed. They have been successful to date, and the University is the only one of any standing in the country which has remained open. For Father Spiralli now to actively support oppositionist activities would mean a complete reversal of his long-standing and firmly held position. Finally, Father Spiralli is an American citizen by naturalization, and presumably well aware of the risks to retention of that citizenship he would incur by participation in the political life of Cuba.

The previous attitude of the Catholic Church and its principal officials also causes the Embassy to doubt that the Catholic Church as a unit has now decided to support or encourage revolutionary activities. The Catholic Church has remained apart from the recent turmoil in Cuba. This of course reflects the traditional attitude of the Church, but may also be in some degree due to the character of the leading Catholic churchmen here. The Archbishop of Habana, Cardinal Arteaga, is elderly, partly senile, and noted for a peaceful and retiring disposition. He would find the idea of political involvement, with the consequent agitation and tension, personally most disagreeable. The other leading Catholic churchman in the country is the Archbishop of Santiago, Cardinal Perez Serrante. Opposition circles have frequently alleged to the Embassy that he strongly supports them. The Embassy has been inclined to feel that that was a mistaken interpretation of the Cardinal’s actions. He appears to have acted not from political conviction, but from a desire to avoid bloodshed and to restore tranquillity in Oriente Province. He has been careful to maintain contacts with top governmental figures, and has evinced no hostility toward them.

On the other hand, individual Catholic officials and certain Catholic lay organizations are actively supporting revolutionary activities. At least one priest is serving with the forces of the “26th of July” Movement in the Sierra Maestra. Others are active in clandestine organizations such as the Movimiento de Resistencia Civica. (MRC—Civic Resistance Movement) Father Bez Chabebe, a top official of the Youth Section of the Catholic Action organization in the Provinces of Oriente and Camaguey, has told officers of the Embassy that nearly the entire membership of his organization is actively participating in [Page 5] revolutionary affairs, and that he assists them. The Knight Commander of the Chapter of the Knights of Columbus in Santiago showed an officer of the Embassy an appeal which his Chapter had adopted directly against his wishes, which in effect asked the Catholic Church in North America to directly intervene in the situation in Cuba for the purpose of removing Batista. A [less than 1 line not declassified] has received information from various sources indicating that the membership and leaders of the Juventud Obrera Católica (JOC—Catholic Young Workers) support and are engaged in revolutionary activities. Recently [less than 1 line not declassified] the JOC may officially approve such a position. The JOC is understood to have a membership of around 8,000 concentrated in and around Habana, and such a development would be of considerable assistance to the revolutionary movement.

The Embassy is endeavoring to develop further information to confirm or deny the statement that the Catholic Church is opposed to the present Cuban Government and approves of revolutionary activities, and will advise the Department of the results.

Daniel M. Braddock
Chargé d’Affaires ad interim
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 837.413/1–1058. Secret. Drafted by Topping.
  2. Not printed. It described Topping’s conversations on December 31, 1957, and January 3, 1958, with Dr. Thomas C. Wilson, an American citizen practicing medicine in Havana.
  3. In the enclosed memorandum, Wilson is reported to have tentatively given De Blanck’s first name as Hugo.
  4. Father Lorenzo Spiralli.