My eviction is a warning to Cuban church, U.S. priest says
``I believe that if I stay, negative actions might be taken,'' said the Rev. Patrick Sullivan, a 52-year-old Bronx native who in 1994 became the first American priest assigned to Cuba since the 1960s.
Sullivan came to the attention of Cuban security officials long before the pontiff's Jan. 21-25 visit, largely as a result of his strong involvement in human rights issues in his parish in the central city of Santa Clara.
He once posted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights along with wedding and baptism notices on the bulletin board of his La Pastora church and devoted many of his homilies to democracy.
Sullivan had a former political prisoner edit his parish news letter and gave some foreign journalists information on a group of Santa Clara dissidents who staged a hunger strike around the time of the Pope's visit.
A profile of Sullivan that appeared in the Boston Globe newspaper in 1996 brought a government order to leave the city of 220,000, but the church stalled until Communist Party officials renewed their directive at a meeting three weeks ago with him and his superior in the Capuchin order in Havana.
The Globe reported Monday that Sullivan had continued to be a source of information for foreign journalists and the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana even after his initial warning by the religious affairs department of the Cuban Communist Party's Central Committee.
``He was a bit too outspoken for a harsh government and a weak church,'' said a church expert in Havana. ``And on top of everything, he was a Yanqui -- an enemy of the revolution. He really had very little future here.''
Keeping a distance
Cardinal Jaime Ortega's office referred media inquiries to Santa Clara Bishop Fernando Prego, who in turn referred them to the Capuchin order's headquarters in downtown Havana. There, a man who answered the phone said all order officials were out of town.
Sullivan declined comment on the church leaders' seeming lack of support. ``I cannot pretend to tell them what they ought or ought not to do,'' he said. ``But anyone familiar with the situation of the church in Cuba knows it has limited action because of government controls.''
But Sullivan was far less reluctant to attack government attempts to portray his departure as the result of a church decision. ``This is an internal church matter in which we cannot meddle,'' government spokesmen Alejandro Gonzalez told reporters in Havana.
``I have therefore decided to leave the country now, rather than wait, because I believe it will help avoid reprisals against the Catholic Church if I stay longer,'' he said.
``There is no expulsion order, but technically it amounts to the same thing -- I am going to have to leave,'' Sullivan told The Herald in a telephone interview from his parish, La Pastora, or The Shepherdess.
Asked why the government had denied him an extension of his visa after four years serving in Cuba, Sullivan said he did not know for sure.
``My theory is that the Pope's visit was so enormously successful and so humiliating for the real hard-line believers of atheistic communism that they want to recover lost ground and warn other foreign priests of their enormous power to renew or not renew visas,'' Sullivan said.
Copyright © 1998 The Miami Herald
Copyright © 1998 The Miami Herald