Controversial Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega retires
Controversial Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega retires
He will be replaced as archbishop of Havana by Archbishop Juan de la
Caridad García Rodríguez
A new cardinal may be named at a later date
Ortega presided over visits to Cuba by three popes, created more space
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who presided over three papal visits to Cuba and
served as an emissary between the Vatican and the White House during
rapprochement negotiations, stepped down Tuesday and was replaced as
archbishop of Havana by the current archbishop of Camagüey.
Juan de la Caridad García Rodríguez, now archbishop of Camagüey in
eastern Cuba, was named as Ortega’s replacement in the important and
populous Archdiocese of Havana.
“He’s a man who is very discrete, a man of few words. But that doesn’t
mean he doesn’t say what he thinks,” said Miami Archbishop Thomas
Wenski, who spent part of Easter Week with García in Cuba. “He’ll be a
good archbishop in Havana; he’s already been a good archbishop in Camagüey.”
The low-key García, 67, spent most of his priesthood in his native
Camagüey, becoming archbishop on June 10, 2002.
García “has before him many challenges. The first of those is
reconstructing pastoral work in the Havana church, which is in profound
crisis,” said Lenier González, a co-founder of Cuba Posible, a civil
society project that encourages political dialogue in Cuba. “He will
face a massive exodus abroad of young priests and lay people.”
Serving in Havana, the seat of Cuban government and power, where the
Nunciatura Apostólica, the Vatican’s diplomatic mission, and other
embassies are located will also be a departure for García, said
González. “He must learn to lead an ecclesiastic territory different
from that in Camagüey; one that is much more polycentric from many
points of view.”
It remains to be seen whether García also will be elevated to cardinal
as Ortega was in 1994 after serving 13 years as archbishop of Havana.
New cardinals are often named in decrees, with several appointments made
at a time.
Ortega, 79, submitted his resignation to the Vatican when he turned 75,
as required. But it was not accepted until Tuesday. “Upon reaching the
age limit,” according to the Holy See press office, Ortega’s resignation
was accepted by Pope Francis.
When he turns 80 in October, Ortega would have lost his voting rights as
a cardinal. As a cardinal elector, he took part in the 2013 conclave
that chose Pope Francis.
In Miami Ortega, only the second Cuban to become a cardinal, was
sometimes a polarizing figure. Some exiles thought he should have been a
more vocal defender of human rights and been more critical of the Cuban
“I think he did very little in terms of standing up for human rights
violations and freedoms in Cuba. I would hope the new archbishop will be
more forceful,” said Andy Gómez, a Cuba scholar who has made two
pilgrimages to Cuba for papal visits.
I THINK HE DID VERY LITTLE IN TERMS OF STANDING UP FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
VIOLATIONS AND FREEDOMS IN CUBA. I WOULD HOPE THE NEW ARCHBISHOP WILL BE
Cuba scholar Andy Gómez
“The Vatican kept [Ortega] longer than it would have normally because of
the relationship he established with Raúl Castro,” he said.
Ortega was instrumental in negotiations with Castro for the 2010 and
2011 releases of the Group of 75 — dissidents serving long jail terms
who were imprisoned in the 2003 crackdown known as the Black Spring. But
he was criticized for this too because a condition of release for most
was exile in Spain.
In 2012, when a group of dissidents occupied a Havana church just days
before Pope Benedict’s visit to the island, Ortega asked the government
to force them out, and he later raised more controversy during a speech
at Harvard University when he referred to the group as “delinquents.”
Last summer, prior to the September visit of Pope Francis to Cuba,
dissidents said they approached him at a reception at the home of the
head of the U.S. Interests Section and were rudely rebuffed when they
tried to give him a list of political prisoners they hoped Castro might
release in anticipation of the papal visit. The archdiocese has denied
that Ortega used harsh words.
“It’s hard for someone here to do Monday-morning quarterbacking on
Cardinal Ortega,” said Wenski. “He did what he thought was best and he
did make a positive contribution to the church in Cuba.”
Ortega seemed to choose gaining space for the Catholic Church over
confrontation, and during his tenure the church on the island grew and
began helping people with all aspects of life, from providing soup
kitchens and disaster relief to business training.
“In Cuba, he played a very important role in advancing the church in
important ways,” said Wenski. “He wasn’t afraid to be controversial.”
IN CUBA, HE PLAYED A VERY IMPORTANT ROLE IN ADVANCING THE CHURCH IN
IMPORTANT WAYS. HE WASN’T AFRAID TO BE CONTROVERSIAL.
Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski
And as far as not speaking out against the Castros, Wenski said: “That’s
not really the role of the church to do that. The only one that Cardinal
Ortega had to please was the Lord.”
His successor will face challenges, from a severe shortage of priests
and nuns, to crumbling churches in need of repairs to non-existent churches.
On the outskirts of Havana, however, the new St. John Paul II Church is
under construction. It will be the first new church to be built in Cuba
since the revolution.
With more Catholics returning to the faith, the archbishop “will face a
lot of challenges, but they are exciting because they respond to the
challenge of growth,” said Wenski.
Ortega was born in Jagüey Grande, a sugar mill town in Matanzas, and was
ordained a priest in 1964. During a time when the government of Fidel
Castro was rounding up religious figures and others perceived as enemies
of the state, Ortega spent eight months in a labor camp in 1966-67.
Cuba was still officially atheist when Pope John Paul II appointed
Ortega as a bishop in Pinar del Rio in 1978 and then three years later
as archbishop of Havana. It wasn’t until 1992 that constitutional
references to Cuba being an atheist state were dropped.
After John Paul’s visit in January 1998, relations between the church
and state improved significantly and the government once again
recognized Christmas as a holiday.
Among Ortega’s more prominent roles was serving as an emissary for Pope
Francis during secret talks between the United States and Cuba that led
to a diplomatic breakthrough on Dec. 17, 2014, and the subsequent
reestablishment of relations, according to the updated book Back Channel
Ortega made a trip to the White House three months before the
rapprochement was announced on a visit so sensitive that his name didn’t
appear on the log of White House visitors. He hand-delivered a letter to
President Barack Obama from the pope, who had become a behind-the-scenes
mediator, and was offering to “help in any way possible.”
During Obama’s March visit to Cuba, the president met with Ortega during
a tour of the Havana Cathedral and expressed his thanks for his role in
Source: Controversial Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega retires | Miami Herald