Rorate Caeli

"The Pope has denied that he's a leftist!" Or has he?
How the Catholic mainstream media spins just as much as the secular media. - PLUS:What the Pope REALLY said about Cuba

[Read also our post on Francis' meeting with Fidel Castro: Has the Church surrendered to Fidel Castro?]

Tonight, various news agencies and websites representing what some would call the "Catholic mainstream media" are going wild with reports that the Pope has just denied that he is a leftist. 

Now, let's have a look at what he really said during his in-flight press conference from Cuba to the United States. The full transcript (in translation, naturally) of the in-flight press conference can be read on the Catholic News Agency's website. (Full transcript of Pope's in-flight interview from Cuba to US.) 

First, regarding his denial of being a leftist, here's what Pope Francis actually said:

A cardinal friend of mine told me that a very concerned woman, very Catholic, went to him. A bit rigid, but Catholic. And she asked him if it was true that in the Bible, they spoke of an antichrist, and she explained it to him. And also in the Apocalypse, no? And, then, if it was true that an anti-pope, who is the antichrist, the anti-Pope. But why is she asking me this question, this cardinal asked me? “Because I’m sure that Pope Francis is the anti-pope,” she said. And why does she ask this, why does she have this idea? “It’s because he doesn’t wear red shoes.” The reason for thinking if one is communist or isn’t communist. I’m sure that I haven't said anything more than what’s written in the social doctrine of the Church. On another flight, a colleague asked me if I had reached out a hand to the popular movements and asked me, “But is the Church going to follow you?” I told him, “I’m the one following the Church.” And in this it seems that I’m not wrong. I believe that I never said a thing that wasn’t the social doctrine of the Church. Things can be explained, possibly an explanation gave an impression of being a little “to the left”, but it would be an error of explanation. No, my doctrine on this, in Laudato si', on economic imperialism, all of this, is the social doctrine of the Church. And it if necessary, I’ll recite the creed. I am available to do that, eh.

Look! There! Aha! The Pope denies being a leftist! In fact what the Pope does here is to refer to an unspecified explanation of the things he has said that "give an impression" of being left-leaning ("a little to the left") and then says that it is an erroneous explanation. The fact is we do not know exactly what he is describing here as the "erroneous" explanation of his thinking, or even what he means here by being "to the left", which can mean vastly different things on either side of the equator. If anything, this looks like a non-denial denial. This, like so many other things coming from this Pope, is cloaked in so many verbal vagaries that it is hard to have a precise idea of what he actually has in mind.  More to the point is what he says about Cuba in the rest of the interview, Cuba being an unmistakably Communist regime. 

Conveniently the Catholic mainstream media passes over in silence Pope Francis' doubling down on the contention that his teaching is part of the social doctrine of the Church, especially Laudato Si

Now we turn to what he said about Cuba, which occupies most of the interview. 

In response to a question by Rosa Flores if he wanted to meet the dissidents (50 of whom were arrested outside the papal nunciature in Cuba during his visit), this is what Francis says:

... I would like to meet with everyone. If you want me to speak more about the dissidents, you can ask me something more concrete. For the nunciature, first, it was very clear that I was not going to give audiences because not only the dissidents asked for audiences, but also audiences (were requested) from other sectors, including from the chief of state. And, no, I am on a visit to a nation, and just that. I know that I hadn’t planned any audience with the dissidents or the others. And secondly from the nunciature, some people made some calls to some people who are in these groups of dissidents, where the responsibility was given to the nuncio to call them and tell them that I would greet them with pleasure outside the cathedral for the meeting with the consecrated (religious). I would greet them when I was there, no? That did exist. Now, as no one identified themselves in their greetings, I don’t know if they were there. I said hello to the sick who were in wheelchairs. … Oops, I’m speaking Spanish. I greeted those who were in wheelchairs, but no one identified themselves as dissidents; but from the nunciature calls were made by some for a quick greeting.

The Pope reiterated his refusal to meet Cuban dissidents when responding to Nelson Castro of Radio Continental:

... No, I didn’t receive any private audience. That is for everyone, and there was a head of state; I told them “no.” And that I didn’t have anything to do with the dissidents. The contact with the dissidents was what I explained. The Church here, the Church in Cuba, made a list of (prisoners) for the pardon; more than three thousand were given the pardon, the president of the bishops' conference told me.  
Fr. Federico Lombardi: There were more than 3,000...  
Pope Francis: There were more than 3,000 and other cases are being studied. The Church here in Cuba is commited to this work of the pardons. 

In short, Francis denies ever having wanted or planned to meet any of Cuba's dissidents in a private audience. (Of course, he had time to meet with Fidel Castro! What message does that telegraph to Cuba's long-suffering dissidents?) The most he was planning to do was "greet them with pleasure" outside the Cathedral. 

"But isn't in wonderful that prisoners were released in honor of the Pope's visit?" Yes, that is true. It's wonderful. What neither the Pope nor Fr. Lombardi mention is that NONE of the 3,522 prisoners freed by Cuba in time for the Pope's visit were political prisoners -- the Guardian reported it more than a week before the papal visit.

Finally, the Pope's comments on Fidel Castro and the Cuban system itself. 

First, about Fidel Castro -- when the Pope was asked if Mr. Castro was "regretful" of anything during their meeting, Francis said:

Regret is a very intimate thing, and it’s a thing of conscience. I, in the meeting with Fidel, I spoke of the stories of known Jesuits, because in the meeting I brought a gift of a book, from Fr. Llorente, also a good friend of his, who is also a Jesuit. And also a CD with the conferences of Fr. Llorente and I also gave him two books from Fr. Pronzato [sic] which I’m sure he’ll also appreciate. And we talked about these things. We spoke a lot about the encyclical, Laudato si'. He’s very interested in the issue of ecology. It was a not-so-formal, rather spontaneous meeting. Also his family was present there. Also those who accompanied me, my driver, were present there. But, we were a bit separated from his wife. They couldn’t hear, but they were in the same place. But we spoke a lot on the encyclical because he is very concerned about this. About the past, we didn’t speak.
(inaudible question from Poggioli)
Pope Francis: Yes! About the past, the Jesuit college. And how the Jesuits were and how they made him work. All of that, yes.

In short the meeting was mainly about Laudato Si, not about Castro's "conversion" or telling him off for what he has done or anything else that some Catholics -- the ones still in denial over this pontificate -- have dreamed about in recent days. 

And, finally, what did the Pope say about Cuba? Read for yourself. (We have provided a link to the complete transcript at the beginning of this post so our readers can read for themselves - as usual, our reporting is absolutely accurate and based on what has actually been said.)

Jean Louis de la Vaissiere, AFP: In the last trip to Latin America, you harshly criticized the capitalist liberal system. In Cuba, it appears that your critiques of the communist system weren’t very strong, but “soft.” Why these differences?

Pope Francis: In the speeches that I made in Cuba, I always put the accent on the social doctrine of the Church. But the things that must be corrected I said clearly, not “perfumed,” or soft. But, also the first part of your question, more than what I have written – and harshly – in the encyclical, also in Evangelii gaudium, about wild, liberal capitalism – I didn’t say it. All that is written there. I don’t remember having said anything more than that. If you remember, let me know. I’ve said what I’ve written, which is enough, enough.

Rogelio Mora-Tagle, Telemundo: [Explains that Popes have visited Cuba often in a short period of time.] Is Cuba suffering from something, Holy Father? Is it sick?

Pope Francis: No, no. First, John Paul II went on his historic visit, which was normal. He visited so many countries, including nations that were aggressive against the Church, but that wouldn’t be it.... 

So, Pope Francis denies that Cuba is a "sick" country, and specifically denies that it is "aggressive" against the Church -- despite the well-documented repression, discrimination and denial of access to transport and communications that the Catholic Church in Cuba continues to face. Not only that but the Pope claims that he spoke "clearly" about the "things that must be corrected" in Cuba -- well, can someone please show us where he said anything that was clearly critical of the Cuban system?

Update: In a stern editorial, the Washington Post takes the Pope to task for his appeasing words to the Castro regime, and contrasts his behavior in Cuba to his willing to visit everyone, from prisoners to homeless in America, while not even dissidents are allowed to view him in the Communist island, an incoherence that causes grave scandal even to the eyes of the secular world:

In his visit to the United States beginning Tuesday, Pope Francis will meet not just President Obama and Congress but also those marginalized by our society: homeless people, immigrants, refugees and even the inmates of a jail. He’s expected to raise topics that many Americans will find challenging, such as his harsh critique of capitalism. His supporters say it’s all part of the role the pope has embraced as an advocate for the powerless, one that has earned him admiration from both Catholics and some outside the church.

How, then, to explain Pope Francis’s behavior in Cuba? The pope is spending four days in a country whose Communist dictatorship has remained unrelenting in its repression of free speech, political dissent and other human rights despite a warming of relations with the Vatican and the United States. Yet by the end of his third day, the pope had said or done absolutely nothing that might discomfit his official hosts.

(Photo source: NY Post)