December 3, 1999
HAVANA, Dec 2 (Reuters) - Cuba said on Thursday it valued its ``good'' relations with the Catholic Church and the Vatican but avoided responding directly to calls from Pope John Paul for wider freedoms on the communist-ruled island.
In a written address to the new Cuban ambassador to the Vatican, the Pope said earlier on Thursday it would be easier for Cuba to win credibility and financial aid if it opened up ``new space for the freedom and participation of its people.''
The Pontiff's statement was one of his most forceful about Cuba since he made a historic visit to the island last year. He called then for more freedom for its people.
Asked about the Pope's latest comments, Cuban Foreign Ministry spokesman Alejandro Gonzalez told a news briefing the foreign media had taken them out of their real context, which he described as ``positive'' towards Cuba.
He said Cuba's ambassador to the Vatican, Isidro Gomez, had told him that in the same message the Pontiff also praised the level of health and education on the island, and the Cuban people's efforts to lift the country out of economic crisis.
``He (the Pope) said relations between the church and state should be maintained at their current good level,'' he added.
Pressed on the Pope's specific comments about the need for wider freedom in Cuba, the government spokesman replied: ``The Catholic Church's positions and criteria about different aspects of life and society are known, as our own opinions about these same problems are known.''
``The important thing is that a constructive spirit and good understanding and relations should prevail at all times between the Cuban state and the Vatican,'' he said.
Cuban President Fidel Castro and his government routinely reject foreign criticism of Cuba's human rights record.
The Pope's comments coincided with a visit to the island by the Vatican's foreign minister, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran.
In a paper on church-state relations delivered at a church- organised seminar in Havana Wednesday, Tauran said the Catholic Church supported a democracy that was ``essentially pluralist.''
He said religious believers in a society should be allowed ``full freedom to think, to express themselves, and to act, including the freedom to dissent.''
Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited
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