Rubio on Castro Condolences: Obama’s Response ‘Pathetic’; My Catholic Faith Does Not Bind Me to Pope’s Foreign Policy Stances

Patrick Goodenough | November 27, 2016 | 5:26pm EST
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Pope Francis and Cuba's Fidel Castro meet during a September 2015 papal visit to Cuba. (AP Photo/Alex Castro, File)

( – Asked Sunday about Pope Francis’ expression of sorrow on the death of Fidel Castro, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said that as a Catholic he believes in the Pope’s theological authority but his faith does not bind him when it comes to foreign policy positions.

During an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Rubio’s criticism of President Obama’s statement of condolence following the death of the former Cuban dictator was noted – he called it “pathetic” – but then interviewer Dana Bash pointed about that Pope Francis, too, had expressed sorrow.

“As a practicing Catholic, what's your reaction to that?” Bash asked.

“Well, as a practicing Catholic, I believe in the theological authority of the Bishop of Rome – and that’s what Pope Francis is,” Rubio began. “On political matters, however, particularly on foreign policy issues, I don't necessarily believe that that binds those of us in the faith in terms of issues of foreign policy. I still respect it, but this is a very different thing.”

Rubio questioned the validity of the comparison Bash had drawn.

“Pope Francis is the leader of a religious organization, the Roman Catholic Church,” he said. “Barack Obama is the president of the most powerful country in the world.”

The Pope’s response came in the form of a telegram to President Raul Castro acknowledging “the sad news of the death of your dear brother.”

“I express my sentiments of sorrow to Your Excellency and other family members of the deceased dignitary, as well as to the people of this beloved nation,” he wrote. “At the same time, I offer prayers to the Lord for his rest and I entrust the whole Cuban people to the maternal intercession of our Lady of the Charity of El Cobre, patroness of that country.”

In his statement, also issued Saturday, Obama “offer[ed] condolences to Fidel Castro's family,” spoke about his administration’s opening to Cuba, and assured the Cuban people that “they have a friend and partner in the United States.”

Obama’s statement, 226 words long, made no reference to the communist, one-party regime Castro led or the human rights abuses committed over the decades of his rule – nor those of more recent years since his brother assumed the reins.

Instead, two carefully-worded sentences touched on the significant impact Castro had, consciously avoiding saying whether it was for good or ill.

“We know that this moment fills Cubans – in Cuba and in the United States – with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation,” Obama said. “History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.”

Rubio called the response from the president “pathetic.”

“What I called ‘pathetic,’” he told Bash, “is not mentioning whatsoever in that statement the reality that there are thousands upon thousands of people who suffered brutally under the Castro regime.”

“He executed people; he jailed people for 20 to 30 years. The Florida Straits – there are thousands of people who lost their lives fleeing his dictatorship,” Rubio continued. “And not to acknowledge any of that in the statement, I felt was pathetic, absolutely.”

‘A brutal dictator who oppressed his own people’

President-elect Donald Trump’s reaction to news of Castro’s death was a statement noting “the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades.”

“Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights,” Trump said. “While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve.”

The statement ended with an expression of “hope of one day soon seeing a free Cuba.”

Rubio, a Cuban-American and leading critic of the Castro regime, was a leading contender in a crowded field of Republicans vying for the 2016 presidential nomination.

Bash asked him how he expected the next president to handle Cuba.

He recalled that Trump, while campaigning, characterized Obama’s rapprochement with the Castro regime as wrong and pledged to change policies he felt needed to be changed.

“Our goal is the national security and national interests of the United States and, as part of that, to do everything possible through our foreign policy towards Cuba to incentivize and pave the way for … the move toward democracy,” Rubio said.

U.S. policy towards Cuba should be examined through that lens, he said.

“If there’s a policy that helps that, it remains in place. And if it’s a policy that doesn’t, it’s removed,” Rubio said. “And that's what I would encourage them to do. And I look forward to working with them on that.”

Rubio, who was critical of Trump’s foreign policy stances while contesting the Republican presidential primary, said Trump has “said all the right things” about Cuba and has had good people advising him on the issue.

“So I certainly have confidence that he's going to do the right thing when it comes to Cuba.”

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