As Analyst Points Out Human Rights Abuses in Cuba, Andrea Mitchell Blames U.S.

On her Monday MSNBC show, host Andrea Mitchell gushed over Cuba's Communist dictator possibly heading "back to Church" and returning to "his Jesuit roots" after a meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican: "Cuba's president Raul Castro is praising Pope Francis for helping to thaw relations between U.S. and Cuba....he said that the Pontiff inspired him to consider returning to the Catholic Church."

Turning to NBC's Vatican analyst George Weigel, Mitchell touted "a great welcoming of the Pope to Havana despite the Communist Party's anti-Catholic ideology." Weigel offered a dose of reality to the Castro-loving anchor: "Pope Francis is a shrewd man. And he knows, as you know, that Raul Castro is a very cunning character who may be using the Pope even as he professes to be rethinking his religious position."

Mitchell promptly defended the authoritarian regime: "Well, Raul Castro, let it be said, understands that this opening is so important to him....Pope Francis, the Vatican, has been so deeply invested in this opening, which follows his philosophy that there shouldn't be these barriers, that this embargo is wrong."

Again Weigel cast doubt on Castro's intentions:

Pope Francis knows that the people of Cuba are the real victims of Cuba being cut off from the world....It would be interesting to see President Castro make a concrete gesture of real intention to change. For example, widespread release of political prisoners, some reconciliation with the Ladies in White – these remarkably brave women who demonstrate every Sunday on behalf of their imprisoned relatives. So I think everyone would like to see something a bit more than a reference to where Raul Castro went to [Catholic] high school in Havana a long time ago.

Mitchell pushed back and proclaimed: "...the Pope is also reflecting very widespread – from the U.N. to the OAS – disagreement with the embargo, the U.S. congressionally-mandated embargo. That the policies – you know, no one questions the issue of policies in Havana – but the law in the United States is what has blocked an opening."

On Monday's CBS This Morning, correspondent Allen Pizzey similarly fawned over Castro potentially rejoining the Church: "It wasn't water into wine, but Pope Francis may have turned Cuban president Raul Castro back into a believer....[Francis] was no doubt more than pleased at adding another member to his faithful flock."

Here is a transcript of the May 11 segment:

12:01 PM ET TEASE:

ANDREA MITCHELL: Back to Church. Cuba's leader Raul Castro says he is so impressed with Pope Francis, he may return to his Jesuit roots.

12:11 PM ET SEGMENT:

MITCHELL: Welcome back. Cuba's president Raul Castro is praising Pope Francis for helping to thaw relations between U.S. and Cuba. Castro met privately this weekend with the Pope, actually on Sunday, where he said that the Pontiff inspired him to consider returning to the Catholic Church. Pope Francis will visit Cuba in September before his trip to the U.S. In a televised news conference, Raul Castro vowed to attend the Pope's Masses in Havana.

Joining me now is NBC News senior Vatican analyst George Weigel. George, great to see you, thanks so much.

GEORGE WEIGEL: Hi, Andrea.

MITCHELL: This has been so interesting to all of us who follow Pope Francis and of course all of us who've covered Cuba. There have been other pope visits. I've been there when the Pope has been there, previous popes, Pope Benedict most recently. And there's a great welcoming of the Pope to Havana despite the Communist Party's anti-Catholic ideology. But this is a completely different message from Raul Castro after meeting with a Latin American – the first Latin American pope.

WEIGEL: I think Pope Francis has tried to put a little heart into a man who was once described to me as, by another Vatican official, as being like a stone. And if he can reach this man, that's good. That's good for the people of Cuba who've been oppressed by this dictatorship for 50 years now. It's good for the Church in Cuba, which needs to rebuild itself after a very difficult five decades. But Pope Francis is a shrewd man. And he knows, as you know, that Raul Castro is a very cunning character who may be using the Pope even as he professes to be rethinking his religious position.

MITCHELL: Well, Raul Castro, let it be said, understands that this opening is so important to him, the opening that was negotiated partly with the effort – I mean, largely with the effort of the Vatican as an intermediary. We're only just learning additional details that Cardinal Ortega from Havana actually was spirited into the White House, invited to Washington last summer by the retired Cardinal McCarrick to appear at Georgetown as – that was the pretext, but then carried a message – a message from Raul Castro to President Obama. So the fact that Pope Francis, the Vatican, has been so deeply invested in this opening, which follows his philosophy that there shouldn't be these barriers, that this embargo is wrong. That 50 years of enmity so close, 90 miles away, that's partly very much in the Havana regime's interest.

WEIGEL: Pope Francis knows that the people of Cuba are the real victims of Cuba being cut off from the world. John Paul II said, as you remember,  in the end of his visit in January 1998, "Let Cuba open itself to the world and let the world open itself to Cuba." If this is another nudge in that direction, that's a good thing.

It would be interesting to see President Castro make a concrete gesture of real intention to change. For example, widespread release of political prisoners, some reconciliation with the Ladies in White – these remarkably brave women who demonstrate every Sunday on behalf of their imprisoned relatives. So I think everyone would like to see something a bit more than a reference to where Raul Castro went to high school in Havana a long time ago.

MITCHELL: But I do think, George, that the Pope is also reflecting very widespread – from the U.N. to the OAS – disagreement with the embargo, the U.S. congressionally-mandated embargo. That the policies – you know, no one questions the issue of policies in Havana – but the law in the United States is what has blocked an opening.

WEIGEL: It will be interesting to see if the Pope brings that up when he comes here in Washington right after he visits Cuba in September. It seems to me that the question is how do you use any easing of restraint on trade with Cuba as a means to empower the people of Cuba to take control of their own future, which they really haven't been able to do for five decades. And that's something Pope Francis certainly wants to see happen.

MITCHELL: George Weigel, thank you very much.

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