As the papal visit drew to a close yesterday, the whole event seemed to have crystallized for the free world the brutal horror that 39 years of Castro's "revolution" has wrought on the Cuban people. This is an island that has been impoverished economically, physically and spiritually.
While the pope traveled the country, so too did 4,000 journalists putting a human face on the realities of totalitarianism. The media may have given Fidel celebrity treatment during past visits to the U.N., but newspapers this week filled with stories of struggling, starving, lonely people driven to despair at the hands of the Cuban state. Miami has been on an emotional roller coaster with even self-described hard-liners on Miami talk radio wondering what they could do to help.
Fidel might have hoped that the Pontiff would lash out, and yes the embargo was criticized. But as in Poland and Russia before, John Paul's critique of the Cuban system was devastating. The Cuban people may have been unfamiliar with the particulars of the Mass, but when the Pope called for freedom of expression, association and initiative, his crowds burst into applause, despite the certain presence of Castro's infamous security forces.
The connection he made between the totalitarian state and the dissolution of families resonated with Cubans. The economic situation, he explained, has "obliged people to be away from their families within the country and emigration...has torn apart whole families and caused suffering for a large part of the population." He called the island's high rate of abortion "a senseless impoverishment of the person and society itself."
One of his most pointed criticisms was of the state education system which takes pre-teens away from their families and ships them to "boarding schools" on the island, making family contact nearly impossible. He admonished the Cuban government for substituting itself for these children's parents. And he delivered to the regime a list of prisoners on whose behalf he asked for clemency.
More than three years ago in these columns, we called for ending the economic embargo against Cuba. After the events of the past week, we see no reason to alter our position, or the reasons for it. We wrote then: "With all due recognition of the very deep dilemmas policy-makers face, this policy does not seem sustainable either practically or morally."
Castro's repeated argument that the embargo itself is the cause of his island's impoverishment has been exposed this week as a lie. Pointedly, John Paul II made it clear that Cuba's revival most certainly has to do with more than the material life alone. Castro's ruination of families and the pride and dignity of his people is the dictator's own doing, a culpability shared as well by his brother Raul, who presumes himself the inheritor of this shameful debacle.
The Pope, with his presence and words, has pointed to a post-embargo policy toward Cuba. The goal is to help the 11 million Cubans who otherwise continue a life of desperation. The goal is to recognize that the architect of this ruination is a pariah, and those Western interests who enrich the government kleptocracy at the expense of Cuban entrepreneurs deserve to be denounced. Pope John Paul placed Cuba before the world's eyes in proper perspective this week. Those truths should not be forgotten as Cuba's people are finally brought into the world.
A jury last year ordered the diocese to pay the judgment to 11 former altar servers who claimed the diocese was negligent in not preventing a former priest from sexually abusing them. The diocese today published financial records in the newspaper Texas Catholic. The diocese says it has less than $1 million in cash reserves, about $6 million in other assets, and liabilities of $3.2 million.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs dismissed the claims, saying the total should include churches, schools, Catholic Charities, the Texas Catholic newspaper, and diocesan cemeteries. The diocese disputes the assertion, saying that those properties are held in the name of Bishop Charles V. Grahmann, as a corporation sole. The diocese has filed suit to force two insurance companies to pay the judgment.
Diocese Chief Financial Officer Michael Weis told The Dallas Morning News it is possible the diocese will have to declare bankruptcy, if the suits fail.
The papal directive comes as the result of a controversy that began last August, when a new German law required women who sought abortions to obtain counseling, and present a certificate indicating that they had received that counseling before scheduling the abortion. Some German Catholics argued that they should make every effort to counsel women who are contemplating abortion, in an effort to dissuade them; others countered that it would be intrinsically immoral to furnish the certificate the women would use to obtain the abortion.
In his letter to the German bishops-- dated January 11, but made public in Rome only Tuesday, January 27-- the Holy Father said that counselors in Church-related facilities should not provide such a certificate. Pope John Paul made it clear that no one serving the Catholic Church should sign a certificate which could be used to procure an abortion. He asked that any policy allowing the issuance of such certificates be stopped "instantly."
The German bishops, who met this past weekend to consider the issue, today said they will follow the Pope's directives. However, Bishop Karl Lehmann, the president of the German bishops' conference, said that they would not follow the Pope's request to stop issuing certificates "instantly." Instead, he told reporters at a press conference in Mainz: "We will not issue this certificates any longer than necessary."
Bishop Lehmann said that the Church in Germany would not withdraw from the system of counseling for pregnant women, but "we will fully use the room we have for maneuver."
The Pope had called on the German bishops to find ways to "remain present in an effective way in consulting women who are looking for help." He also asked the bishops to work for a change in the new German law, which allows abortion at any time during pregnancy if their is any "medical indication" to justify the procedure.
In an effort to resolve the "dilemma" about counseling for pregnant women, the German bishops had held several consultations among themselves, and sent delegations to the Vatican on three occasions to meet with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Pope John Paul, in his letter, remarked that this "dialogue" had now continued for two years. He himself had indicated, in a September 1995 letter to the German hierarchy, that it was clear, "according to our faith, that Catholic institutions cannot do anything that might serve as justification for abortion in one way or another."
Acknowledging that the German bishops had been split on the issue, the Holy Father cautioned that this difference should not break the "unanimity" of the Church in their defense of human life, or in their communion with the Holy See. He asked all German Catholics to unite in the search for a more acceptable way of serving the needs of women facing problem pregnancies.
Even under the existing law, however, the Pope noted that there remain "numerous possibilities to remain present in the work of counseling; the involvement of the Church need not ultimately depend on the delivery of this certificate." He urged counselors to provide genuine help to women through their "professional competence," their "human attention," and their readiness to provide concrete help.
However, because the Church must remain free to provide a clear and forceful witness in defense of every human life, it is not possible to tolerate the "ambiguity" that arises when Church employees furnish the certificate that makes an abortion legally possible, the Pope said. By doing so, the Church was helping to fulfill "a necessary condition for the legalized execution that is abortion-- even if, in a certain way, it is not the decisive cause."
He called upon the German bishops to help the people of their country understand the Church's position, as a means of educating the public and arousing the nation's conscience.
Bishop Karl Lehmann, president of the conference, said Catholic agencies would continue to provide abortion counseling, but added the bishops will meet in March to decide how to continue the counseling without contributing to abortion. Under German law, women who wish to abort their child must first see a counselor, and then, if they wish to go ahead with the procedure, receive a certificate from the counselor. In a private letter to the bishops published in a Frankfurt newspaper on Tuesday, the Holy Father said: "I would like to urgently request that you, dear brothers, find ways so that a certificate of this nature is no longer issued in Church counseling centers or in centers which are affiliated with the Church."
Supporters of Catholic involvement in the process argue that Catholic counselors can positively influence women who are deciding whether to have an abortion. Chancellor Helmut Kohl and his Christian Democrats' party have also urged the Church to remain involved because of the possibility of abortion splitting its voter base of Christians in upcoming elections.