Reports of Castro Confessing to Pope Stir Buzz

Imagine the line queued up behind Fidel Castro — he of the hours-long speeches to the Cuban people he led for almost five decades — 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.

“If true, this is a remarkable story — and one that has yet to catch the attention of editors this side of the Atlantic,” observes in a story under the headline “The Last Temptation of Castro.”

A report in the center-left La Republicca quotes Castro’s daughter, Alina, as saying, “During this last period, Fidel has come closer to religion. He has rediscovered Jesus at the end of his life. It doesn’t surprise me, because Dad was raised by Jesuits.”

The Italian daily also quotes a Vatican official who is working on details of the Pope’s Cuba trip, including a meeting with Castro’s successor and brother, Raul. “Fidel 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,” the Vatican official told La Republicca.

However, some raise the issue of Castro’s supposed excommunication from the church in 1963. Some observers contend that Pope John XXIII bounced him out of the flock; others say that’s a misconception.

La Republicca quotes a Vatican official as saying, “True, in 1963 [Castro] was excommunicated by the Pope, but then that measure was a measure almost automatic for those who professed Communism.” also cites a Vatican Insider column in La Stampa that says, “there is no evidence that Castro was excommunicated by Pope John XXIII.”

Besides, excommunication doesn’t bar reconciliation with the church if a penitent seeks forgiveness and is absolved.

Those who note Castro’s former hard-line position against religion cite his attending Mass during Pope John Paul II’s 1998 visit to Cuba as proof the ailing dictator had softened on matters of faith. [More]