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Controversy awaits on Pope's trip to Mexico, Cuba

Catholic World News - March 21, 2012

As Pope Benedict XVI prepares for an international voyage that will take him to Mexico and Cuba from March 23 to 29, the Vatican has released some statistics about the Church in each country.

There are nearly 100 million Catholics in Mexico, according to the Vatican statistics, representing 92% of the country’s population. The Pope’s visit there will mark the 200th anniversary of Mexican independence.

In Cuba the official figures show 6.8 million Catholics, accounting for 60% of the population, although the number of active churchgoers is considerably lower. The Pope’s visit there will coincide with the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the revered image of Our Lady of Charity of Cobre.

Looking forward to the Pope’s arrival in Mexico on the first stop of his journey, some reporters have said that there is little public excitement about the Pontiff’s arrival, in contrast with the enormous interest in the visit by Pope John Paul II in 1979. The earlier papal visit came at a time when the government’s long history of anti-clericalism was finally breaking down, and Catholics were elated that a Roman Pontiff could actually visit their land.

Just before Pope Benedict’s arrival, the publication of a new book has stirred up controversy about the Vatican’s support for the late Father Marcial Maciel, the disgraced founder of the Legionaries of Christ. La Voluntad De No Saber (“The Will Not to Know”) by José Barba, a former member of the group, includes new documents that show Vatican officials had reason to know about Maciel’s misconduct, including his abuse of young Legionaries, decades before he was finally disciplined. Journalists responding to the book’s publication have generally not recognized that it was Pope Benedict who pressed for disciplinary action against Maciel, eventually overcoming resistance by other Vatican officials.

In Cuba, discussions about the papal visit have focused largely on anti-Castro protesters who plan to attend the Pope's public events despite being discouraged by the government--and perhaps by local Church leaders as well. Organizers of the trip have not allowed room on the Pontiff's schedule for a meeting with human-rights activists: an omission that has sparked some criticism of both the Vatican and the Cuban hierarchy, which is seen by conservative analysts as overly friendly with the Castro regime.

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