BY ANDREA RODRIGUEZ | Associated Press
HAVANA - Cuba’s Roman Catholic cardinal defended the church’s pastoral role on the communist-run island and rejected outside calls for increased support of the political opposition.
Cardinal Jaime Ortega also called for reconciliation among Cuban believers during a Thursday night conference attended by hundreds of people. In the audience was U.S. Interests Section Chief James Cason, a frequent target of criticism by the government. Foreign diplomats, opposition members and well-known cultural figures tied to Fidel Castro’s government, also attended the conference.
‘‘The church’s mission is not to be on the side of the opposition,’’ said Ortega, the Archbishop of Havana and the island’s only Roman Catholic cardinal. “In the same way, you cannot ask the church to support the government.’‘
Ortega’s comments came a week after a Czech bishop and former anti-communist dissident criticized the church in Cuba for not supporting the opposition movement here. Ortega said his Czech colleague did not visit him during a recent stay here.
‘‘The church leadership is very reserved toward the opposition movement,’’ Bishop Vaclav Maly told reporters on May 21, hours after he returned from a 10-day visit to Cuba. ‘‘From my point of view, it’s a big mistake,’’ Maly said.
Maly noted that while a church should not engage in politics, “in a dictatorship, it’s always good when people of goodwill unite.’‘
Maly, chairman of a Czech human rights group run by the Roman Catholic Church, traveled to Cuba after 75 government opponents were sentenced to long prison terms and three men were executed after quick trials for trying to hijack a ferry.
At the time, Cuba’s Roman Catholic bishops issued a statement questioning both the executions and the political crackdown.
‘‘Violence is not eliminated with more violence,’’ the Cuban bishops said, adding that they were also concerned about “long prison sentences imposed on political opponents.’‘
Ortega said that the mother of one of the executed men had later met with him. The prelate said he was impressed by her lack of rancor and called on believers to replace their hatred with a similar spirit of reconciliation.
Maly, 52, a signatory of the Charter 77 human rights manifesto co-authored by former President Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic, was jailed numerous times by the former communist regime.