RELIGION-CUBA: Family, Values And The Pope

Dalia Acosta

HAVANA, Nov 30 1997 (IPS) - Pope John Paul II’s message to the Cuban family in 1998 will have to start with tolerance if he hopes to win the hearts of even the most committed Catholics in a country where some values are more liberal than the Vatican allows.

The Pope will be visiting Cuba from January 21 to 25, and will spend one of his four masses speaking to the family, an element he sees as the main building block of society and the best vector for putting the Catholic Church’s policies into practice.

But John Paul II should take forty years of socialist revolution into account, for women here were given full rights and independence, the hypocrisy was dug out of intra-couple relationships, and abortion and family planning are legal.

“I come to mass every Sunday, because I feel good here, but this does not mean I agree with everything the Church says,” a 21 year old university student, who has been living with her boyfriend for months, told IPS.

She is very clear on the matter: she does not want to get married yet, and is not sure she has met the love or her life, but is not prepared to give up sex or attempts to be happy.

“Of course I use contraceptives. Otherwise I would have to have an abortion and I am sure that would be much worse,” said the young woman after receiving a leaflet against the use of condoms and in favour of sexual abstinence from the priest.

Outside the churches, frank laughter is the most common reaction amongst people on the island to any “moralising sermon” against extramarital sex or contraception.

In Cuba, where there are 4.8 million baptised Catholics, divorce and common law arrangements are common, people tend to have their first sexual relationship during adolescence and there is a high abortion rate.

Official tolerance of religious practices from early this decade caused an increase in baptisms, church weddings, people asking for prayers for the dead and attending religious festivals.

Vatican sources stated baptisms in Cuba had increased from 26,534 in 1986 to 70,081 in 1994. But, at the same time, they recognise baptism on the island is not so much a sign of great Catholic commitment, as it is generally not done in a sacramental sense, but by way of protection.

Observations by the Department of Socioreligious Studies in the Cuban Centre for Psychological and Sociological studies (CIPS) said the amount of people taking part in the pilgrimmage for Saint Lazarus’s day, on December 17, had increased from 68,000 in 1988 to 97,000 in 1995.

However, the researchers added that most of those attending the Catholic saints’ festivals are not so much practicing Catholics but devotees of some African based syncretic cults.

“It is true a lot of people go to church, but this does not mean we Cuban people have become more virtuous,” said one 52 year old Catholic, telling IPS there was still a great gap between “what is proclaimed and what is being done.”

According to Cuba’s Statistical Yearbook, amongst the 11 million Cubans, there were 65,009 marriages in 1996, 13,603 of which were recognised as the “formalisation” of a previous common law arrangement.

The women getting married were mostly single 39,073, with 11,948 divorcees and 385 widows. Amongst the men, 39,073 were single, 12,381 divorced and 416 widowed.

According to the National Office of Statistics, while marriage was rocketing last year, so was divorce, with 41,227 cases.

The divorce rate reached a peak in 1993, when six divorces were registered for every 1,000 inhabitants. Meanwhile, marriage hit a high in 1991 and 1992 with 15.1 and 17.7 marriages per 1,000 people respectively.

Research carried out during the past decade by the Havana based Youth Studies Centre, showed a fifth of all young people getting married were doing so aware it could possibly end in divorce.

The 1987 National Fertility Survey indicated that despite knowledge of contraceptive methods amongst Cuban women, first pregnancies are frequently aborted, some women have more than one abortion per year and others have four or more abortions before having their first child.

The high level of induced abortion, which is considered a health problem by specialists, reached a critical point in 1985, when 138,671 such operations were carried out in health institutions, a rate of 83.6 abortions per 100 births.

Statistics from the Ministry of Public Health said in 1996 there were 59.4 induced abortions per 100 births, 37.3 for every 100 pregnant women, and 25.9 for every 1,000 women aged between 12 and 19 years old.

Experts say the problem of the use of abortion as a contraceptive method would be best achieved by more effective sex education, and not by regulating an operation considered here to be a woman’s right.

“Abortion, in fact, only becomes a dead weight on the familys inherent capacity for social action,” stated the monthly publication of the Archbishopric of Havana, referring to statements by Cardinal Jaime Ortega.

Ortega said the problem of “sex, as pleasure, also affects the family” assuming that irresponsible sex inevitably leads to unwanted pregnancy and, in the worst of cases, abortion.

A message released by the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba, in 1993, entitled “El amor todo lo espera” (Love awaits all) caused the moment of worst tension between the Church and the State this decade, discussing the loss of values in the bosom of the family.

For the Bishops, “early marriage is a sign of little social stability, divorce is increasing in an alarming manner” and the Cuban family has split “painfully” with children going to boarding schools, parents working outside the home, and emigration all taking their toll.

“Incredibly, there is a coincidence of criteria between the church and other experts when the time comes to identify the problems facing the Cuban family. The difference is in how they propose to deal with these problems,” Dixie Edith, a journalist specialising in population issues told IPS.

While Church authorities see the symptoms of a crisis of values which have to be recovered at any cost, for the other experts, these are the effects of a crisis of traditional values in the Cuban family which must necessarily be replaced by new ones.

Specialist studies state the crisis in the Cuban family should be seen as a process of “evolution, transformation and opportunity,” and not as “destruction, annihilation and disintegration.”

“The family constitutes a very strong value for Cubans. As a human group it continues to provide the greatest sources of emotional gratification and pain,” said Patricia Ares, teacher at the University of Havana Psychology faculty.

At the same time, studies show the younger generations on the island are increasingly unprejudiced about sexual relations, while family structures are ever more diverse and family commitment is seen as more of a common bond between people than something predetermined by blood relationships.

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RELIGION-CUBA: Family, Values and the Pope

Dalia Acosta

HAVANA, Nov 24 1997 (IPS) - Pope John Paul II’s message to the Cuban family in 1998 will have to start with tolerance if he hopes to win the hearts of even the most committed Catholics in a country where some values are more liberal than the Vatican allows.

Republish | | Print |

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