A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Casting the first stone

We live in a world of instant information and instant communication so it is no surprise that Cardinal Bergoglio's (aka Pope Francis) past has been put before us (accurate, inaccurate, who knows?).It put me in mind of the problem of collective guilt and the responsibility that is thought to fall on all for the sins of some, or selective guilt that falls on one for the sins of others. It is reported that Bergoglio didn't do various things during Argentina's "dirty war"; even that he might have been complicit, etc. Just as most stories in the U.S. media on clerical sexual abuse usually imply that no bishop ever did anything about it, or didn't do it soon enough, or still hasn't done anything, etc. The same broad brush is used, for example, on whether FDR did enough to save European Jews from Hitler's death camps. One frequently cited example is that he failed to bomb Auschwitz to end the atrocities there. A new study reports that the issue was never put before him so he couldn't have decided not to bomb. Here's a review of that book.We live in societies where few of us have real authority to stop the war in Iraq, for example, or right the wrongs done by the 2008 financial crisis. What then is our responsibility for these and/or other moral and political travesties? What is the responsibility of leaders who may not have any more authority, knowledge, or power than the ordinary person to remedy matters?


Commenting Guidelines

Ms. S. ==About "structural sin". Laws structure society and direct the actions of officials. Two questions arise immediately. First, do officials have the obligation to implement all laws, even those that are unjust? But this is a different question from: who is responsible for the laws? In a democracy the legislatures are, and individual legislators are responsible for voting for or against them. They are most responsible for those laws, although the people who voted for them are also responsible for giving power to the legislators, depending on why they voted for the legislator. For instance, if Candidate A runs on a platform of helping the poor, and I voter for her, but, without telling us that she is going to push fracking (which I think is immoral), then am I responsible for the fracking law that she manages to get passed? I think not. Mere presence in the face of injustice does not make one responsible for it.But then the question arises: when we become aware of an injustice must we always act to stop it? Again, it all depends.

Not to diminish the gravity of the human rights situation in El Salvador in the 70s/80s, but Charles Rohrbacher is mistaken when he says that the founders of a human rights commission under Church auspices in El Salvador in the late 1970s were all assassinated by the mid-80s, including Monsenor Romero. An assistant at the commission [Socorro Jurdico] disappeared, and two of its lawyers went into exile; one of the two later returned to the country and is currently a member of the constitutional chamber of El Salvadors Supreme Court; the other is currently the executive director of the prestigious Inter-American Institute of Human Rights. Also, while Monsenor Romero recognized the work of Socorro Jurdico and made it part of his office, he was not one of its founders. It is true that doing human rights work in El Salvador in that era was a dangerous proposition. For more information, see (among others) the report of the Commission on the Truth for El Salvador: From Madness to Hope: The 12-year War in El Salvador.

Thanks Gene. Fact-checking always useful!

Thank you Gene for the helpful correction. As always, it is important to be accurate, which in no way diminishes the gravity of the human rights abuses in El Salvador. I should have been more specific -- I was thinking of the Commission for Human Rights, which was a secular human rights organization (denounced as an FMLN front) which I have always understood was founded with the support and encouragement of Monsenor Romero. Marianella Garcia Villas and Herberto Anaya were assasinated respectively in 1983 and 1987. The press secretary Magdalena Henriquez was killed in 1980 and one of the early directors, Ramon Valladores was killed in the early 80's but I don't recall the exact year. My point, which I appreciate you underlined, was to illustrate just how dangerous human rights work was in general and in particular in El Salvador.

A very important article on this topic of political responsibility is Steven Perlstein's piece in today's Washington Post The title is "Is Capitalism Moral?"

Our generation (I'm 71)is being exposed to much. Many of us who have held no positions of authority didnt' have the chance to take official positions in anything public. that does not mean we are not responsible for what happened in our milieu.....maybe the "wisdom of old age" Francis was refering to is to recognize our errors and try to make ammends with a new life of doing what is right. Being repentant does not mean being forgiven.

Gene, I'd be interested in reading your own take on Pope Francis, when you have had time to decide what you want to say.

Gene, good idea from Claire. If you'd like I will put them in a new post.

It seems to me that the figure of Bergoglio is troubling in a way not addressed by generalities about collective guilt. See these three pieces:

I think these articles have been trolled through already here and in other posts...something like an echo not a ....

Peggy and Claire:Thank you for the invitation. Truth is that I don't feel I have anything to add. If that changes, I'll write something.

Listeening of the new pope's warm sermon on the woman taken in adultery here in Rome this morning, I could not help wondering if he was not perhaps asking for mercy in people's judgment on his own past.

I wonder zhy Fr Jose de Vera, a very moderate and reasonable man, secretary to the Jesuit general Kolvenbach, spoke in such an extraordinarily negative way about the new pope. Or why Fr Adolf Nicolas, a very warm, kind, and positive man, welcomed the papal election so coldly. I can only presume they know something we don't, yet.

Anybody ever meet a Jesuit who actually approved of another Jesuit, much less liked them?