The Pope Goes Squishy

In other news that could make heads explode in some conservative circles, veteran Republican foreign policy hand Elliot Abrams verbally spanks Pope Benedict XVI for failing to more forcefully upbraid his Cuban hosts during his trip to the island:

[T]he Pope’s failure to advance the cause of freedom is sad indeed. The photos of him with Fidel and Raul Castro can only have demoralized those struggling and suffering for freedom in Cuba, for the Pope refused to meet with any dissidents at all. Moreover, his remarks were so carefully phrased that, according to press reports, most Cubans did not view them as a call for freedom-whatever the Pope’s intent.

Of course the Pope is not a political figure, but he did rather clearly say he thought the U.S. embargo should end. If it was possible to be clear on that issue, why not on the far more fundamental issue of freedom? I know the Church plays a very long game, in Cuba as in China and everywhere across the globe, and this visit may have gained the Roman Catholic Church in Cuba a bit more freedom for itself to operate. But at what cost? “I’m deeply concerned that the Cuban church has negotiated political space for themselves in exchange for their moral imperative,” Sen. Marco Rubio said this month.

For better or worse, of course, the Vatican’s sense of its primary pastoral duties have always led it to look the other way at human rights abuses in exchange for special protections for the Church and its members, as a certain Concordat in 1933 tragically illustrated. I know it’s an important foundational myth for many American conservatives–a myth, BTW, that Abrams has worked hard to promote–to believe that Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan together defeated Soviet communism and ended the Cold War. But no one should really expect the Holy See to accept talking points dictation from Elliott Abrams about how to behave on a papal visit to another country.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.