Interpretations of Church and State in Cuba, 1959-1961

By Super, John C. | The Catholic Historical Review, July 2003 | Go to article overview

Interpretations of Church and State in Cuba, 1959-1961


Super, John C., The Catholic Historical Review


Unrestrained excitement greeted Fidel Castro when he entered Havana on January 8, 1959. More than any other leader of the revolutionary forces, he personified Cuba's potential to become a progressive and democratic republic. Castro's immense popularity helped to overcome for a brief period the divisions over political philosophies and programs that soon fractured Cuban life.

The Catholic Church stood at the center of the controversies that unfolded, for both what it did and did not do. Until recently, the Church was one of the least studied aspects of the Cuban revolution, almost as if it were a voiceless part of Cuban society, an institution and faith that had little impact on the course of events. Beginning in the 1980's more extensive and serious analyses of the revolution began to appear, and for the most part these studies lacked the emotional charges and countercharges so common in revolutionary historiographies. Instead of attempting systematically to survey all of the literature, this essay selects works that represent the main interpretations of church-state relations. Among the many works available, those of Juan Clark and John M. Kirk deserve notice at the outset.1 Though their works differ in tone, focus, and interpretations, they are both essential for understanding the Church in Cuba.

The following essay begins with a commentary on interpretations of the Church in Cuba in the 1950's, and then discusses church-state relations during the first years of the revolution, emphasizing the difficulty of understanding why events unfolded as they did. It concludes with an assessment of Castro's explanation of church-state relations, and the extent of the discrimination against the Church.

I

As students of Latin America long have recognized, generalizing about anything as institutionally, theologically, and historically complex as the Catholic Church is difficult. Recent scholarship on Cuba addresses this issue, and the best of the writing recognizes that the history of the Church is dynamic and full of contradictory tendencies. To view the Church as synchronic rather than diachronic is a mistake for most times and places in Latin America. The literature also recognizes that some historians overemphasize the importance of the Church, while others deemphasize it. The Church becomes the metaphor for all that is good and evil, all that is weak and powerful. The objective then is to come to a balanced appraisal, something difficult to do under the best of circumstances, and almost impossible in an ideologically charged atmosphere.2

Another difficulty is the relationship between formal religion and what is often described as popular or folk religion. Most studies of religion in Cuba refer to the institutional Catholic Church, not to the popular expression of religious beliefs. An exception is Damian J. Fernandez, who argues that widespread belief in different folk religions belies the notion that religion was unimportant. Indeed, the revolutionary government created a political religion by using the symbols of traditional folk religions to further its objectives.3

Despite the problems, generalizations about the Church and religion do help to clarify the nature of the discourse abovit church and state. On the eve of the revolution, the Cuban Catholic Church was small, ineffective, conservative, dominated by foreigners, confined to the major cities, and out of touch with the serious social and economic problems of the nation. This sentence, obviously a gross oversimplification, does summarize many interpretations that have become a part of the mainstream historiography on the Church. As an example, the Church "was merely another feeble institution with only superficial strength. . . . Of the Spanish American people, then, the Cuban was the least Catholic."4 This interpretation has even found its way into texts on world religions. In the very few lines devoted to Cuba in his fine survey of world religions, Michel Malherbe notes that "well before the instauration of Fidel Castro's regime, Cuba was the Latin American country where religious practice was the weakest. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Interpretations of Church and State in Cuba, 1959-1961
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.