Statement on the Release of Cuban Prisoners, February 12, 1998
February 12, 1998
We were very pleased to learn that the Cuban government has granted the request of the Holy Father to release a certain number of detainees from the list presented to the Cuban authorities by the Holy See, "as an act of clemency and of good will in commemoration of the visit of Pope John Paul II to Cuba." It was gratifying also to hear that the Cuban government, citing humanitarian grounds, has reprieved a significant number of other persons detained for various reasons.
Just over two weeks ago, during his visit with the sick and suffering at the San Lazaro clinic in Havana, the Holy Father spoke eloquently not only of physical suffering but also the "suffering of the soul such as we see in those who are isolated, persecuted, imprisoned for various offenses or for reasons of conscience, for ideas which although dissident are nonetheless peaceful. These prisoners of conscience suffer an isolation and a penalty for something for which their own consciences do not condemn them."
The Pope continued that what these prisoners want "is to participate actively in life with the opportunity to speak their own mind with respect and tolerance." Speaking directly to the Cuban authorities, Pope John Paul encouraged "efforts to reinsert prisoners into society. This is a gesture of high humanity and a seed of reconciliation, a gesture which honors the authority promoting it and strengthens social harmony in the country."
In his departure remarks, the Pope cited the numerous problems that plague Cuban society today, most of which have their origin within Cuba, but some--such as "oppressive economic measures" imposed from outside the country--point to our own government. "All can and should take practical steps to bring about changes in this regard," the Pope insisted.
It seems to us that this most welcome decision by the Cuban government to release significant numbers of prisoners represents one of those "practical steps" that clearly call for some reciprocal action on the part of the United States government.
Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick
Chairman, USCC Committee on International Policy