Cardinal and Longtime Catholic Leader in Cuba to Step Down
By VICTORIA BURNETT APRIL 26, 2016
MEXICO CITY — Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino, the longtime leader of
the Roman Catholic Church in Cuba and a savvy political operator who
aided the Vatican's secret efforts to broker détente between Washington
and Havana, is stepping down, closing an era in which the church became
the only institution outside the government with any sway on the island.
His successor as archbishop of Havana will be Juan de la Caridad García
Rodríguez, the archbishop of the central city of Camaguey, according to
a statement from the Cuban Conference of Catholic Bishops released Tuesday.
Cardinal Ortega, 79, will leave behind a Cuban church whose reach is
greater than at any point since Fidel Castro swept to power in 1959. Far
from the days when Catholics were marginalized and the cardinal — as a
young priest — spent time in a labor camp, the church is building new
places of worship, tending to the poor, offering courses for aspiring
entrepreneurs and prodding the government to speed up economic reforms.
His time as prelate, which began in the early 1980s, spanned three papal
visits, including one last September by Pope Francis, as well as a
historic meeting between the pope and Patriarch Kirill of the Russian
In mid-2014, he hand-delivered letters from Francis to President Obama
and President Raúl Castro, in which the pontiff urged them to reach an
agreement that would end more than half a century of Cold War acrimony.
"Ortega will go into the Cuban history books as a key player," said
Carlos Saladrigas, a Cuban businessman who grew up in Miami but retains
close ties to the Cuban church. "He has pushed the boundaries very far."
Still, some priests and political activists say that the cardinal could
and should have pushed harder for greater religious and political
freedoms. Some critics considered him aloof and said he showed apparent
disdain for some of the Castros' opponents.
Archbishop García, 67, the son of a railway worker, was ordained in 1972
and took up his present position in 2002. In choosing him to succeed
Cardinal Ortega, Pope Francis extended his preference for church leaders
"who are humble and close to the people in the parishes," Mr. Saladrigas
What was not clear was whether the pope expected the new archbishop to
take up his predecessor's political mantle.
Mr. Saladrigas said, "Clearly everyone hopes that he will continue to
push things along."