Pope Francis complex past

 

Pope Francis: Simple image, but shadowy past
 
Only 10% of Argentine catholics attend church
 
Argentine president compares Francis' tone to 'medieval times and the Inquisition'
 
By Brian Murphy and Michael Warren
Yahoo News

13 March 2013 — Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (now Pope Francis 1) almost never granted media interviews, limiting himself to speeches from the pulpit, and was reluctant to contradict his critics, even when he knew their allegations against him were false, said Bergoglio's authorized biographer, Sergio Rubin.

Bergoglio's legacy as cardinal includes his efforts to repair the reputation of a church that lost many followers by failing to openly challenge Argentina's dictatorship. He also worked to recover the church's traditional political influence in society, but his outspoken criticism of President Cristina Fernandez couldn't stop her from imposing socially liberal measures that are anathema to the church, from gay marriage and adoption to free contraceptives for all.

His church also had no say when the Argentine Supreme Court expanded access to legal abortions in rape cases, and when Bergoglio argued that gay adoptions discriminate against children. Fernandez compared his tone to "medieval times and the Inquisition."

Yet Bergoglio has been tough on hard-line conservative views among his own clerics, including those who refused to baptize the children of unmarried women.

"These are today's hypocrites; those who clericalize the church," he told his priests. "Those who separate the people of God from salvation. And this poor girl who, rather than returning the child to sender, had the courage to carry it into the world, must wander from parish to parish so that it's baptized!"

Bergoglio himself felt most comfortable taking a very low profile, and his personal style has been the antithesis of Vatican splendor.

"It's a very curious thing: When bishops meet, he always wants to sit in the back rows. This sense of humility is very well seen in Rome," said the biographer Rubin.

His preference to remain in the wings, however, has been challenged by rights activists seeking answers about church actions during the dictatorship after the 1976 coup, often known as Argentina's "Dirty War."

Many Argentines remain angry over the church's acknowledged failure to openly confront a regime that was kidnapping and killing thousands of people as it sought to eliminate "subversive elements" in society. It's one reason why more than two-thirds of Argentines describe themselves as Catholic, but less than 10 percent regularly attend Mass.

Under Bergoglio's leadership, Argentina's bishops issued a collective apology in October 2012 for the church's failures to protect its flock. But the statement blamed the era's violence in roughly equal measure on both the junta and its enemies.

"Bergoglio has been very critical of human rights violations during the dictatorship, but he has always also criticized the leftist guerrillas. He doesn't forget that side," said the biographer Rubin.

The statements came far too late for some activists, who accused Bergoglio of being more concerned about the church's image than about aiding the many human rights investigations into the junta era.0

Bergoglio twice invoked his right under Argentine law to refuse to appear in open court. When he eventually did testify in 2010, his answers were evasive, human rights attorney Myriam Bregman said.

At least two cases directly involved Bergoglio, who ran Argentina's Jesuit order during the dictatorship.

One examined the torture of two of his Jesuit priests - Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics - who were kidnapped in 1976 from the slums where they advocated liberation theology, which is the belief that Jesus Christ's teachings justify fights against social injustices.

Yorio accused Bergoglio of effectively handing them over to the death squads by declining to tell the regime that he endorsed their work. Jalics refused to discuss it after moving into seclusion in a German monastery.

Both men were freed after Bergoglio took extraordinary, behind-the-scenes action to save them, including persuading dictator Jorge Videla's family priest to call in sick so that Bergoglio could say Mass in the junta leader's home, where he privately appealed for mercy. His intervention likely saved their lives, but Bergoglio never shared the details until Rubin interviewed him for the 2010 biography.

Bergoglio told Rubin that he regularly hid people on church property during the dictatorship, and once gave his identity papers to a man with similar features, enabling him to escape across the border. But all this was done in secret, at a time when church leaders publicly endorsed the junta and called on Catholics to restore their "love for country" despite the terror in the streets.

But rights attorney Bregman said Bergoglio's own statements proved church officials knew from early on that the junta was torturing and killing its citizens, and yet publicly endorsed the dictators.

"The dictatorship could not have operated this way without this key support," she said.

Bergoglio also was accused of turning his back on a family that lost five relatives to state terror, including a young woman who was five months' pregnant before she was kidnapped and killed in 1977. The De la Cuadra family appealed to the leader of the Jesuits in Rome, who urged Bergoglio to help them; Bergoglio then assigned a monsignor to the case. Months passed before the monsignor came back with a written note from a colonel: The woman had given birth in captivity to a girl who was given to a family "too important" for the adoption to be reversed.

Despite this written evidence in a case he was personally involved with, Bergoglio testified in 2010 that he didn't know about any stolen babies until well after the dictatorship was over.

"Bergoglio has a very cowardly attitude when it comes to something so terrible as the theft of babies. He says he didn't know anything about it until 1985," said the baby's aunt, Estela de la Cuadra, whose mother, Alicia, co-founded the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo in 1977 in hopes of identifying these babies.

"He doesn't face this reality and it doesn't bother him," the aunt said. "The question is how to save his name, save himself. But he can't keep these allegations from reaching the public. The people know how he is."

Initially trained as a chemist, Bergoglio taught literature, psychology, philosophy and theology before taking over as Buenos Aires archbishop in 1998. He became cardinal in 2001, when the economy was collapsing, and won respect for blaming unrestrained capitalism for impoverishing millions of Argentines.

Later, there was little love lost between Bergoglio and Argentina's government. Relations became so frigid that the president stopped attending his annual "Te Deum" address, when church leaders traditionally tell political leaders what's wrong with society.

"Is Bergoglio a progressive, a liberation theologist even? No. He's no Third World priest," said Rubin. "Does he criticize the International Monetary Fund, and neoliberalism? Yes. Does he spend a great deal of time in the slums? Yes."

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