Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Argentine Pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio/Francis I

My enthusiasm for the new Pope Francis I/Jorge Mario Bergoglio is cautious to the point of being more worry than hope. We can always hope. There was even the possibility that Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI would have some reform-oriented moments. Now we can mainly be relieved that he didn't do more harm.

I don't see a lot in Bergoglio's record to make me hope that he's likely to be especially reform minded. During El Proceso, the military dictatorship of 1976-83 in Argentina, he wasn't exactly Sophie Scholl. John Allen, Jr., in his article (retitled since its first publication) Profile: New pope, Jesuit Bergoglio, was runner-up in 2005 conclave National Catholic Reporter 03/08/2013, writes of his role during that period:

From 1973 to 1979 he served as the Jesuit provincial in Argentina, then in 1980 became the rector of the seminary from which he had graduated.

These were the years of the military junta in Argentina, when many priests, including leading Jesuits, were gravitating towards the progressive liberation theology movement. As the Jesuit provincial, Bergoglio insisted on a more traditional reading of Ignatian spirituality, mandating that Jesuits continue to staff parishes and act as chaplains rather than moving into "base communities" and political activism.

Although Jesuits generally are discouraged from receiving ecclesiastical honors and advancement, especially outside mission countries, Bergoglio was named auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires in 1992 and then succeeded the ailing Cardinal Antonio Quarracino in 1998. John Paul II made Bergoglio a cardinal in 2001, assigning him the Roman church named after the legendary Jesuit St. Robert Bellarmino.

Over the years, Bergoglio became close to the Comunione e Liberazione movement founded by Italian Fr. Luigi Giussani, sometimes speaking at its massive annual gathering in Rimini, Italy. He's also presented Giussani's books at literary fairs in Argentina. This occasionally generated consternation within the Jesuits, since the ciellini [members of Comunione e Liberazione] once upon a time were seen as the main opposition to Bergoglio's fellow Jesuit in Milan, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini.
Allen puts a relatively friendly spin on Begoglio's fondness for the conservative Comunione e Liberazione group, saying, "that's also part of Bergoglio's appeal, someone who personally straddles the divide between the Jesuits and the ciellini, and more broadly, between liberals and conservatives in the church."

Charlie Pierce gives a less appreciative view of the ciellini in Meet Your New Pope 03/13/2013:

He [Bergoglio] also has ties to the shadowy network of international conservative Catholic organizations that John Paul II enabled and encouraged throughout his long reign. In Bergoglio's case, it's the Comunione e Liberazione movement in Italy, a group based in the conservatibe backlash against the Second Vatican Council that has been conspicuously involved in Italian politics. (Its newspaper, Il Sabato, came very close to calling for outright Catholic theocracy in Italy.) Sylvio Berlusconi is also quite a fan.

So, at first glance, we have a deft clerical politician with a long track record of managing to straddle controversial issues while leaning always toward the powers in Rome.
Hugh O'Shaughnessy in The sins of the Argentinian church Guardian 04.01.2013 gave a very harsh verdict on Begoglio's dealings with the junta. But the significant correction now appended to the end of the article indicates that he wasn't writing with the greatest of circumspection.

Washington Uranga, Un estratega político Página 12 14.03.2013 writes:

Bergoglio, jesuita, es un hombre de sólida formación teológica y cultural, y desde el punto de vista político ha tenido fuertes vinculaciones con los sectores más tradicionales y ortodoxos del peronismo. Se lo puede considerar claramente como un religioso de pensamiento conservador en todos los aspectos y sentidos, pero no por ello cerrado al debate y a la discusión de las ideas.

La etapa más cuestionada y controvertida de su vida tiene que ver con su actuación como superior provincial de la Compañía de Jesús durante la dictadura militar. Se lo ha señalado como directo responsable de la desaparición de los sacerdotes también jesuitas Francisco Jalics y Orlando Yorio. Ambos curas, que desarrollaban trabajo social en las villas de Buenos Aires, fueron secuestrados y llevados a la ESMA. De allí fueron devueltos después de padecer torturas. Bergoglio niega toda responsabilidad en la desaparición de los curas. Orlando Yorio, que ya murió, estaba convencido de que su superior los había entregado. El episodio nunca fue aclarado en forma suficiente.

[Bergoglio, Jesuit, is a man of solid theological and cultural formation, and from the political point of view has had strong connections with the most traditional and orthodox sectors of Peronism. He can clearly be considered as a religious person of conservative thought in all aspects and senses, but not closed to debate and discussion of ideas because of that.

The most questioned and controversial stage of his life has to do with his actions a provincial superios of the Society of Jesus {the Jesuit order} during the military dictatorship. He has been indicated as directly responsible for the disappearance of the fellow Jesuit priests Francisco Jalics y Orlando Yorio. Both clerics, who did social work in the poor neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, were kidnapped and carried to the ESMA {a notorious torture center during the dictatorship}. They were released from there after suffering torture. Bergoglio completely denies responsibility in the disappearance of the clerics. Orland Yario, who has died, was convinced that his superior had turned them in. The episode has never been clarified in a sufficient form.]
The Jalics-Yorio case is the most serious criticism of him I've seen so far in connection with El Proceso. The nasty conservative writer Erick Erickson praised Bergoglio for "handing over lefties to the right wing junta," which shows how twisted Erickson is. (Digby, Liberty loving wingnut "adores" the new pope because lefties object to his ties to death squads Hullabaloo 03/13/2013)

Argentine human rights organizations still working on various issues related to the dictatorship like the Madres del Plaza de Mayo, HIJOS (Hijos por la Identidad y la Justicia contra el Olvido y el Silencio) and Familiares de Detenidos y Desaparecidos por Razones Políticas don't regard Bergoglio as having been especially helpful in resolving issues of the disappeared and of babies kidnapped from political prisoners, one of the most painful of those issues. ("Retroceso para nuestra lucha" Página 12 14.03.2013) At the very least, the new Pope should address the failures of the Argentine Church during that period.

This photoshopped graphic from HIJOS depicts Bergoglio being escorted by notorious criminal leaders of the 1976-83 junta:

See also: Las oscuras relaciones del nuevo Papa con la dictadura argentina Público 13.03.2013; Fernando Cibeira, Errar es divino Página 12 14.03.2013; Horacio Verbitsky, Un ersatz Página 12 14.03.2013.

Despite his diplomatic skills during the dictatorship and his good ongoing relationships with the Argentine oligarchy and their representatives in politics, allies of the reformist Kirchner governments, including the current President Cristina Fernández, have been much cooler. He has especially blasted Cristina's government over what in America are known as "culture war" issues like abortion and marriage equality for gays and lesbians. Bergoglio has been a hardline, outspoken opponent of both. Same-sex marriage is legal in Argentina, abortion much restricted.

Allen in the article cited above observes that Bergoglio had good relationships with the large Jewish community in Argentina:

Bergoglio also won high marks for his compassionate response to the 1994 bombing in Buenos Aires of a seven-story building housing the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association and the Delegation of the Argentine Jewish Association. It was one of the worst anti-Jewish attacks ever in Latin America, and in 2005 Rabbi Joseph Ehrenkranz of the Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, praised Bergoglio's leadership.
Lauren Markoe in Jews worldwide see an ally in Pope Francis Religion News Service 03/13/2013 also reports:

"As far as I have heard and read in the few minutes since he was elected pope, he has shown deep signs of respect and friendship towards the Jews," said Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome. "It's a good starting point."

As Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis "has had a warm relationship with the Jewish community of Argentina, and enjoyed close friendships with many prominent rabbis," said Rabbi David Rosen, international director of interreligious affairs at the American Jewish Committee.

The Jewish community of Argentina — 250,000 people living predominantly in Buenos Aires — is the largest in Latin America by far.

Bergoglio's statements after the Buenos Aires bombing still resonate 20 years later with Jews in Argentina and beyond, in part because the crime remains under what many consider a purposefully thwarted investigation, and continues to make headlines in Argentina, Israel and the Jewish press.

When Islamic militants — widely thought to be from Iranian-backed Hezbollah — attacked the Jewish center, Bergoglio "was forthright not only in his condemnation of the act but in his solidarity with the Jewish community," said Rosen.

Just two months ago, the government of Argentina announced a joint Argentinian-Iranian commission to investigate the nearly 20-year-old suicide bombing, which killed 85 and wounded 300.

Rosen said he is unaware of any statement Bergoglio made regarding the new commission, which strikes many Jews as allowing the criminals to investigate the crime. [my emphasis]
Couldn't Religion News Service spring for a long-distance phone call to Buenos Aires and maybe, you know, talk to someone at the AMIA or some other Jewish civic or religious organization there to ask about how Argentine Jews got along with the new Pope in his previous career? Because that account of the state of the AMIA investigation is not very substantial. It was a real step forward in the investigation of the case when the Argentine government recently struck an agreement with Iran that allows Argentine investigators to interview several Iranian suspects in the case. Although the agreement did cause some controversy in Argentina, calling it "allowing the criminals to investigate the crime" is a big overstatements.

The Argentine government has been pursuing the investigation into this 19-year-old case, including bringing charges against former government officials including ex-President Carlos Menem for obstruction of justice in the case. (In America, of course, we Look Forward Not Backward and consider it a sign of "Third World" backwardness to actually hold senior government officials legally accountable for breaking the law in their positions of public trust.) Their theory of the case is based on Iranian perpetrators. But that has never began demonstrated in court. And the evidence is more ambiguous than one would assume from the typical American references to the attack which asset as fact or its functional equivalent that Hizbullah did the attack with Iranian backing. Since that attack is used as the best example of Iran's supposed ability to practice Terrorism far outside its borders as one among many ways of justifying a war buildup against Iran, it's worth examining such claims with care.

During Trita Parsi's book tour last year promoting his A Single Roll of the Dice - Obama's Diplomacy with Iran (2012), I asked him about the AMIA case and whether he thought it was credible that Iran could have directed such an attack. He said he wasn't familiar enough with the AMIA case to have a strong opinion on it. But that such a move was consistent with other things Iran was doing in the world at the time.

It's worth noting that La Nación, the newspaper that has been long regarded as the chief press organ of the Argentine oligarchy, is downright gleeful that we have a Pope who they regard as a friend and as an enemy of Cristina's. (Mariano Obarrio, Horas de sorpresa, fastidio y decepción en la Casa Rosada La Nación 14.03.2013; Jorge Bergoglio y los Kirchner: años de una relación tensa La Nación 14.03.2013)

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