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Popes and Dirty Wars

I'm going to take a break from my Lenten "fast" from blogging to just note that it seems likely to me that picking a man as Pope who held a position of authority in the Church in Buenos Aires during Argentina's dirty war seems likely to dredge up some bad memories, and perhaps even a few inconvenient truths. The Church has a lot of ugly secrets in Latin America. Liberation Theology, whatever its flaws, represented -- as a cultural matter -- an historic break with shameful tradition in which church, army and oligarchy stood together to defend an unjust status quo, by any means necessary. Keeping silent or perhaps even working quietly behind the scenes in a few caseswhile thousands were tortured, raped and killed for the crime of demanding political freedom and economic dignity was -- for those in a position to do more -- often a form of complicity. Even that limited intercession raises questions, since it would not have been possible without ties to the murderous regime. To their credit, some in the Argentine hierarchy refused to stay quiet. Our new Pope was not among them. I think we can probably look forward to a steady stream of articles on this issue in the coming weeks and months.

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I think it's a relevant concern. Many Jesuit priests died in Latin America at the hands of right-wing dictatorships, including the Jesuits in El Salvador, so to have a Jesuit pope who perhaps sided with the government is disturbing.

Eduardo, I hesitated to click on one of the links but went with it and found this disturbing paragraph that demonstrates your concerns:"What one did not hear from any senior member of the Argentinian hierarchy was any expression of regret for the church's collaboration and in these crimes. The extent of the church's complicity in the dark deeds was excellently set out by Horacio Verbitsky, one of Argentina's most notable journalists, in his book El Silencio (Silence). He recounts how the Argentinian navy with the connivance of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, now the Jesuit archbishop of Buenos Aires, hid from a visiting delegation of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission the dictatorship's political prisoners. Bergoglio was hiding them in nothing less than his holiday home in an island called El Silencio in the River Plate. The most shaming thing for the church is that in such circumstances Bergoglio's name was allowed to go forward in the ballot to chose the successor of John Paul II. What scandal would not have ensued if the first pope ever to be elected from the continent of America had been revealed as an accessory to murder and false imprisonment"

Is keeping silent always a form of complicity? I'd say that at times there is more harm done than good by speaking out. Supposing an armed robber enters your house, steals your money, then takes your child from its crib and says, "If you scream for help I'll kill your child." Would you call for help?? The wise thing to do would depend on the circumstances, wouldn't it? (Yes, sometimes wise choices aren't entirely attractive.) I have read that Amnesty International investigated the accusations and that Bergolio was cleared. Should we look more carefully into that terrible history? Of course. I just wonder if the cardinals looked into it before they voted, or did they do the usual -- just turn a bling eye.

I'm less than impressed with Mr O'Shaughnessy's journalism. The only date he mentions is 1976. Fr Bergoglio was a priest seven years out from ordination. He had a summer home? A man in a religious order? Really?I think people citing this article have a bit of a burden on the proof side of things.That said, practically any non-liberation theology bishop from Latin America probably has explaining to do. I hope Pope Francis is forthcoming about this. As the traditionalists were banging the drum a few days ago for a hardliner, I'd sure like to see a Latin American pope address the corruption of his hemisphere and offer some way out for our sisters and brothers there.

In 1976 he was the Jesuit Provincial for Argentina.

Oh, plus the Jesuits have a fair amount of real estate, often donated, used as retreat houses, etc., and a Provincial would have access to those.

I think that, before conjecturing the man might have some shameful past, one have some credible evidence that he did something to be ashamed of. National Enquirer type exposes don't cut it. I guess those kinds of character attacks go with the job, though.

The important thing is who he is today. As for yesterday, let he or she who is without sin cast the first stone. As for me, I am doing some doodling in the sand. I'll start with myself, if you don't mind.

@Greg Metzger (3/13, 11:21 pm) Just for the record, the article you cited has been updated/changed slightly, with the following note added at the end of the column:"This article was amended on 14 March 2013. The original article, published in 2011, suggested that Argentinian journalist Horacio Verbitsky claimed that Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio connived with the Argentinian navy to hide political prisoners on an island called El Silencio during an inspection by human rights monitors. Although Verbitsky makes other allegations about Bergoglio's complicity in human right abuses, he does not make this claim. The original article also wrongly described El Silencio as Bergoglio's "holiday home"."http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2011/jan/04/argenitina-vi...

Thank you, Luke. And doesn't this teach us that we're too inclined to think the worst of other people? Mea culpa, mea culpa.

Would anyone know the URL of a Catholic forum or magazine or blog in Argentina? I would like to read something like ours here at Commonweal or something else en castellano based in Argentina.Many thanks.Joe

Eduardo, Posts here show that you apparently did not do your homework before writing this. Especially when Amnesty International has not criticized Bergoglio. No doubt this will be discussed in the coming months. But we should not imply what is not yet clear.

Tom Quigley wrote an article for us in 2011 about the Vatican diplomatic corps and the Argentinian guerra sucia. Bergoglio's name does not come up, but it may still be interesting background now: "Tennis with Tyrants."

Tom and Ann - agreedIt is clear that failing to be responsible in ones judgments of responsibility can itself be a very serious moral lapse: To judge another guilty of wrongdoing on the basis of partial evidence, for example, or because I dislike that person for independent reasons, is unreasonable, and involves an injustice done to the one unreasonably accused.More herehttp://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2013/03/8072/

"The important thing is who he is today. As for yesterday, let he or she who is without sin cast the first stone. "Still, we need to know about yesterday.The incident that ended my interest in Pope Benedict was when he did not address questions on his role as archbishop of Munich in the case of Fr Hullermann. That gave the lie to his statement encouraging Irish bishops to transparency. It's not that I thought it would have been terrible if he had made the wrong decision in 1980 - it's that his counsel is not credible when he does not apply it to himself even in painful cases.I hope that Pope Francis will make the effort to clarify what comes up, at least if it comes from a reputable source such as Amnesty International. It's not about us judging him but about him modeling honesty and transparency.

The important thing is who he is today. As for yesterday, let he or she who is without sin cast the first stone. This is insane. A statement like this, in any context, is just absolutely batty.

A statement like this, in any context, is just absolutely battyWorth pondering given this is Lent and Good Friday is coming up quickly.

Claire -Right -- it's not about casting stones but about whether or not he is a trustworthy person. I see that he is having a press conference with the journalists on Saturday. Does that mean he will take questions from the floor? If so, then it will speak well for him. If not, not.

Abe --'No, it's not an insane statement. There is forgiveness when there is repentance. And that means we have to forgive popes when they are repentant too. I would rather deal with someone who sinned but repented than with someone who tries to project virtue when there is reason to think its a lie.

The statement said nothing about forgiveness or repentance. I understand being reflexively defensive about "the new guy," but I do not think that this "ignore the past" attitude would be too readily embraced if it were generalized and applied in different contexts."Meet your daughter's new kindergarten teacher!""Isn't he the guy who dressed up like a chicken 10 years ago and threatened to immolate himself in front of City Hall?""The important thing is who he is today!"

This CBS story covers the most Ive seen on the dirty war. Repeating in this thread, because it is focused on his record.http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-202_162-57574147/jorge-bergoglio-who-is-the-... least two cases directly involved Bergoglio. 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. 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 Videlas family priest to call in sick so that he could say Mass in the junta leaders 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 who ran Argentinas Jesuit order during the dictatorship 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. Rubin said failing to challenge the dictators was simply pragmatic at a time when so many people were getting killed, and attributed Bergoglios later reluctance to share his side of the story as a reflection of his humility. But Bregman (the human rights attorney) said Bergoglios 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 5-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: It revealed that 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 didnt know about any stolen babies until well after the dictatorship was over. (italics added) Like Todd Flowerday, "I hope Pope Francis is forthcoming about this ... Id sure like to see a Latin American pope address the corruption of his hemisphere and offer some way out for our sisters and brothers there."

Ann,Christ calls us to forgive regardless of repentance. JPII forgave his shooter before any repentance.

Bruce: if that is the case, then why is one expected to repent in the Sacrament of Reconciliation prior to the words of absolution being spoken?(At least I guess that's how it still works; that's what used to be the case)

persuading dictator Jorge Videlas family priest to call in sick so that he could say Mass in the junta leaders home, where he privately appealed for mercy.Does this mean we can stop worrying about bishops denying communion to politicians?

I'd like to know more about what Jesus said about the relationship between repentance and forgiveness.If one has not repented, but has been forgiven, is one guilty still? I would think so. Or: what is the difference between guilt and responsibility?(I never did teach ethics, so I've never gone into these questions in detail.)

Jesus prayed "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." He felt he had to teach us to forgive those who ignorantly hurt us. But, what about those who know that what they are doing is wrong, but do it anyway, most especially those who enjoy hurting others, aka sadists? Are we suppose to forgive them or wait for them to repent first? We cannot even know if their repentence is real. We, therefore, let God take revenge ("Vengeance is mine saith the Lord, I will repay.") for only He knows who is really penitent. Sinners casting stones at sinners makes the stone casters into self righteous thugs. Jesus was right to hold a mirror up to those would be thugs.

I think Francis has the potential to be the most outspoken advocate for the poor I've seen in a pope in my lifetime at least. I hope he doesn't get swift-boated by those hostile to that kind of advocacy. Best way to discredit the message is by discrediting the messenger.

As per Bill Mazzella's early comments, from CNN, re: complicity with the military:"The best evidence that I know of that this was all a lie and a series of salacious attacks was that Amnesty International who investigated that said that was all untrue," said Jim Nicholson, former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See. "These were unfair accusations of this fine priest."http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/14/world/pope-5-things/?hpt=hp_t1

The CNN link says that Amnesty never commented on Bergoglio. It's all beginning to sound like the cycles of denial we had about Heidegger and about he sex scandals. I'm afraid that a cloud of controversy will hang over this pontificate however the issue is addressed or not addressed. But that might be a good learning experience for a Vatican that turned its back on Vatican II and indulged a rightist phobia of Marxism.

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About the Author

Eduardo Moisés Peñalver is the John P. Wilson Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School. He is the author of numerous books and articles on the subjects of property and land use law.