Imagine the line queued up behind Fidel Castro â€” he of the hours-long speeches to the Cuban people he led for almost five decades â€” if he went to confession when Pope Benedict XVI comes to town. And, of course, if the pontiff has time during his visit to the communist island nation in March.
What goes on in the confessional obviously would be a private matter between the 85-year-old former Cuban dictator and God. But reports in two major Italian newspapers that he is inclined to seek forgiveness have generated speculation about the possibilities.
â€œIf true, this is a remarkable story â€” and one that has yet to catch the attention of editors this side of the Atlantic,â€ GetReligion.org observes in a story under the headline â€œThe Last Temptation of Castro.â€
A report in the center-left La Republicca quotes Castroâ€™s daughter, Alina, as saying, â€œDuring this last period, Fidel has come closer to religion. He has rediscovered Jesus at the end of his life. It doesnâ€™t surprise me, because Dad was raised by Jesuits.â€
The Italian daily also quotes a Vatican official who is working on details of the Popeâ€™s Cuba trip, including a meeting with Castroâ€™s successor and brother, Raul. â€œFidel is at the end of his strength. Nearly at the end of his life. His exhortations in the party paper Granma are increasingly less frequent. We know that, in this last period, he has come closer to religion and God,â€ the Vatican official told La Republicca.
However, some raise the issue of Castroâ€™s supposed excommunication from the church in 1963. Some observers contend that Pope John XXIII bounced him out of the flock; others say thatâ€™s a misconception.
La Republicca quotes a Vatican official as saying, â€œTrue, in 1963 [Castro] was excommunicated by the Pope, but then that measure was a measure almost automatic for those who professed Communism.â€
GetReligion.org also cites a Vatican Insider column in La Stampa that says, â€œthere is no evidence that Castro was excommunicated by Pope John XXIII.â€
Besides, excommunication doesnâ€™t bar reconciliation with the church if a penitent seeks forgiveness and is absolved.
Those who note Castroâ€™s former hard-line position against religion cite his attending Mass during Pope John Paul IIâ€™s 1998 visit to Cuba as proof the ailing dictator had softened on matters of faith. [More]