Jesuit Priest Expelled from Cuba

Father David Pantaleon S. J. Photo:

We should attack injustice at the root, which lies in human hearts: 

thus, we need to work on shifting mindsets and tendencies 

that lead to injustice and sustain structures of oppression.

-XXXII General Congregation of the Society of Jesus

By Leonardo M. Fernandez Otaño  (El Toque)

HAVANA TIMES – The Society of Jesus (S.J.) has been one of the main religious orders in the Catholic Church’s history in Cuba. During the XVIII century, the order held influence with its teachings at the San Jose School in Havana during the process of developing Creole culture. In 1767, King Carlos III signed an order to expel every Jesuit from the island and his lands. But the religious followers returned to Cuban soil in 1853 and founded the Bethelehem School in Havana, the following year.

In 1961, when the revolutionary Government expropriated the Catholic schools, the Society of Jesus had already established a network of parish churches, chapels, schools, and other social projects that stretched across important urban centers such as Camaguey, Santiago de Cuba, Cienfuegos, and Havana.

A few months ago, the Cuban Communist Party’s Office of Religious Affairs, led by official Caridad del Rosario Diego Bello, publicly announced that they wouldn’t be renewing residency for regional Jesuit superior in Cuba, Father David Pantaleon Rosario. As a result, he’d have to leave the country and that’s exactly what he did. 

This procedure is one of the underhanded ways the Cuban Government and State Security coerce the Catholic Church. Due to a shortage of native callings, the religious institution has found itself forced to request entry for foreign religious personnel more than once. As a result, pastoral workers find themselves conditioned by a residency permit that is granted by the Office of Religious Affairs, which needs to be renewed every year. It can be renewed every 24 months if the religious person “has good conduct”. During this period, the Communist Party observes priests’ and religious followers’ daily lives (preachments, catechesis, pastoral connections).

Father David Pantaleon S.J, was named Superior of the Jesuits in Cuba back in 2017 and his canonical term concludes in July 2023. Not having his residency permit renewed and being deported form the country isn’t an isolated event, but the result of a long process of government surveillance due to him accompanying civil society and Cuban citizens. 

Why the Jesuit superior?

First of all, it needs to be pointed out that the Society of Jesus and the Company of the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul are the orders that have the most religious leaders born in Cuba. Plus, the presence of the order in different points across the country (Havana, Cienfuegos, Camaguey and Santiago de Cuba) means that every message made by the Jesuits spreads to a significant number of parishioners. 

The other fact is based on the strength and social influence of their network of Loyola Centers. This network of centers offers complementary education to children, young people, single mothers, and the elderly; and is also a space for organizing debates and workshops on business ventures, cultural problems and civic values. These centers have been a space for a wide range of opinions that have taken in important voices from the Cuba’s breakaway groups, as was the case with Anamelys Ramos Gonzalez, who coordinated the space for civic debates called Forum Loyola, for many years. They have also taken in other critical intellectuals more recently, such as economists Miguel Alejandro Hayes and Jorge Ignacio Guillen.

The Sunday supplement Vida Cristiana is the order’s main publication in Cuba. Articles about liturgical issues are shared on its pages, and devout communities are guided on the meaning of the Sacred Scripture. They also publish articles with a deep social focus, analyzing and complaining about the reality in Cuba. This editorial line was another factor that sparked unease at the Office of Religious Affairs. With a weekly run of 55,000 copies, this publication is one of the greatest distributed printed publications that doesn’t belong to the Communist Party. 

One point that also caused unease at Caridad del Rosario Diego’s office were publications by Jesuit priests and many secular people linked to the order, in which they complained about the totalitarian government’s systematic violation of human rights. We just have to mention the appeal to military forces published in the lead-up to the proposed protest march on November 15, 2021. It was one of the most important statements made by the Church in Cuba’s recent history, asking the military not to be violent towards their fellow compatriots.

Monthly messages to the Society of Jesus and its collaborators on missions was another factor that sped up David Pantaleon S.J.’s deportation. In these articles, the religious man reflected on the situation in the country, he complained about the precarious living conditions for citizens and the lack of political will to improve the Cuban people’s living conditions. These messages were disseminated across the island and received a lot of independent media coverage, resonating with people both in and outside the Church. Unlike the timid documents and the silence of Cuban bishops. 

However, it was undoubtedly the follow-up service of the Conference of Religious Men and Women in Cuba (CONCUR) that put the priest at the greatest odds with the totalitarian government. Father David Pantaleon S.J. was president of the church group, for the past two years. The service was questioned in various meetings with members of the Office of Religious Affairs. 

With the personalized follow-up service for families of protestors and political prisoners during the social uprising on July 11, 2021, CONCUR not only did good on its mission to assist, but also complained in its messages about the violation of criminal law, summary hearings, sentences and making an example out of political prisoners. Likewise, the degrading treatment and criminal procedure of minors in Cuban prisons in response to their political dissidence.

Deporting Father David Pantaleon S.J., which reminds us of the old policy of deportations for church members at the beginning of the Revolution, is an act the Office of Religious Affairs has fully calculated. They are increasingly trying to silence critical voices within the Cuban Church, who are expressing their disagreement with the situation in Cuba. 

Father David Pantaleon S.J. leaving the country just proves how afraid the Cuban Government is of any space that articulates and complains while accompanying citizens. Well, given the calculated and cautious words at the Episcopal Conference, the Society of Jesus and Conference of Religious Members in Cuba are the church sectors that civil society, parishioners and most citizens have felt the word of the Church’s solidarity.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.