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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?

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



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Who is responsible for the nutritional problems and risks of famine in the third world due to sharp increases in the cost of basic foods largely due to climate change, due to CO2 increases, due to lifestyle choices in the Western world?It's on my mind whenever I take an airplane, or visit a friend's house with large square footage, or see people who choose to live far out and are constantly driving, or see obvious examples of energy waste. What is my individual responsibility when it seems that, often, I have but little choice?

We live in societies where few of us have real authority to stop the war in Iraq, True. Nor did we have any say in its beginning. (Still wondering what was in the letter from Pope John Paul II to President George W. Bush, carried by Cardinal Pio Laghi in his diplomatic pouch. The editor posted a link to an old Commonweal article about tennis with torturers in Argentina, which I assume mentioned Laghi, but it was for subscribers only. In an old thread here on the blog, a poster said he had tried to get access to the letter through the freedom of information act, but was unable to do so.)

Also, I think it's really easy to say that "other people" aren't doing enough while completely letting oneself off the hook. What are critics of the Latin American bishops' complicity with military regimes doing themselves to combat those regimes (other than criticizing Latin American bishops)?. Have they joined School of the Americas Watch? Are they writing letters to their elected officials about the human rights violations of these regimes? Or donating to charities working to build democratic institutions in these countries?I think it is important and a good thing, to call attention to wrongdoing and injustice, and to hold those in power accountable, but we've got to put our money where our mouth is, too.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the new pope did sin on the occasion in question. So what follows? His recent record is pretty darned good. No one I know of has grounds for throwing the first stone.

What one person can do? take a gander how one bartender, Scott Prouty a Boston blue collar, brought the Romney campaign to it's knees and to it's end, by releasing the 47% tape..Prouty taped with no ax to grind and for no personal gain. He just didn't like what he heard.

@MOS: Aren't you being already a bit too apologetic for the new pope's past dalliances with the right-wing fascists in Argentina?Papa Francesco is what he is: a 76 y.o. conservative ideologue. Can any of us say that we're surprised? I recall that Oscar Romero was universally dismissed at his appointment as archbishop as hopeless conservative. Of course, that was before he chose a path to martyrdom - something that the church hierarchs have never really embraced. The stories that Francesco eschews pomp and circumstance [Thomas Reese said on the TV that Bergoglio doesn't seem comfortable with the "red satin" crowd in the curia!] is a certainly a welcome change, and a good start. Give me a pope any day who likes to ride the bus and cook his own meals.Let's see how long that lasts.If the new pope just lives up to his namesake, we'll all be better off. Good luck with shouldering that crumbling edifice of the church.

Ms. Steinfels - good points but would suggest that this period of history in Argentina and the church closely parallels the Spanish Civil War period. Thus, you find priests on both sides (Peronistas and anti-Peronistas) and some advocating and using violence to achieve their political ends. (no matter how sympathetic)Bergoglio's biographer opted for a narrative in which Fr. Bergoglio, as provincial, worked to stabilize the province, worked to focus his Jesuits on gospel values, the poor, etc. and not become involved in armed resistance. (keep in mind - he was ordained in 1969 and fours years later made provincial (think he was roughly 36 yrs. old). yes, as provincial during the *dirty war period* he can be identified with church leadership but, in some ways, he was one step removed from the bishops of Argentina and not part of the episcopal conference. May not excuse his *silence* but it frames it differently)Not sure that you can easily put him into a progressive-conservative construct or government -antigovernment construct. What happens to leaders who strived for a balanced approach; not taking sides; and working to protect the common people?Like the Spanish Civil War, you can find churchmen from both sides involved in atrocities, violence, etc. but you also find pastors who tried to walk a narrow path between the two extremes. Not sure this compares to the Pius XII arguments about complicity with Nazism; silence in the face of the Holocaust; etc.

If we can never question anyone's actions because we ourselves are not perfect, then we're all in serious trouble. We hopefully do the best we can ourselves, and we have the duty to hold others to a standard of decency. Thousands of people, including priests and nuns, were tortured, murdered, disappeared during the Dirty War - there's nothing wrong with asking if the church was negligent in not speaking out against that.

"The future pope told his biographer he had helped to hide potential targets of the junta and I did what I could, given my age and my limited contacts, to plead on behalf of those who had been seized. Adolfo Prez Esquivel, a human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was among those who leapt to the defense of the new pope.He told the BBC his fellow Argentine had no links to the military dictatorship. There were bishops who were complicit, but not Bergoglio, he said in an interview."more at

Pope Francis paid his hotel bill today and collected his dirty laundry!

Don't any of you philosophers and kibitzers have something to say about the problem of collective guilty except that you believe in it?

There is a Jesuit context also. During 1975 the worldwide Society of Jesus held a ground-breaking general congregation which committed the entire order to work through its institutions and ministries for justice and peace. I don't know whether Fr. Bergoglio was a delegate but as newly appointed provincial superior he was expected and ready to implement these steps. That meant re-tooling the many schools and colleges with their traditional functions. But it also meant avoiding partisan positions, especially in volatile societies such as Argentina. And this brings up another point. That 1975 general congregation was the first in the Society's history that was held for the purpose of reviewing its objectives (rather than for electing a new superior general). And other such meetings have been held periodically for the same purpose. Might the Jesuit example, ironically for an order that was among the most top-down Catholic institutions, provide a useful pattern for the entire church? Wouldn't this be the right time to empower finally the synods of bishops to decide vital matters on their own authority in communion with Peter, and to restore such decision-making powers to local conferences of bishops?

Jesuits profess vows of poverty, chastity, and a special vow of obedience to the Pope. HmmDoes that mean that a Jesuit pope vows obedience to himself? How does he do that? Or is he no longer bound by that special vow?We have no precedence for this. (Inquiring minds want to know because they need a life to stop thinking up questions like this.)

The Jesuits in the 70s were anything but middle of the road in Latin America. This from Wikipedia ... the Jesuits undoubtedly made great sacrifices for their beliefs and immense dedication to the poor and dispossessed. On 20 June 1977 the White Warriors Union death squad threatened to kill all of the 47 Jesuits serving in El Salvador unless they abandoned their work with the poor, and left the country within a month. After consulting with the Jesuit community in El Salvador, Fr. Arrupe replied, "They may end up as martyrs, but my priests are not going to leave because they are with the people." A few months earlier, Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande, a proponent of liberation theology, had been assassinated in El Salvador.

Margaret - my view on collective guilt is that it is reducible to many instances of individual guilt. It is true that when individuals get together, they can put things in motion, or sustain things already in motion, that a solitary individual wouldn't be able to accomplish on her own. But the individuals who put that evil in flight or kept it aloft are the ones who are culpable.Collective guilt, on the one hand, tends to tar some people undeservedly who happen to belong to whichever collective is being accused of sinning. And on the other hand, it tends to let guilty individuals off the hook by allowing them to point to the collective, as though their own participation in the sinful activity was partly or wholly beyond their control.Just my views.

I'm still having a hard time wrapping my brain around (2) ideas. I would like to be indulging the romance that just perhaps Catholics have dodged a bullet with F1. I'm stuck on:1. How is it going to work for now infallible F1 to have formerly infallible B16 lurking around the Vatican gardens at every turn, looking over his shoulder every time he needs to make a decision that will reflect badly on B16's tenure? Is F1 going to be preparing meals for B16 on a regular basis?2. Is F1 really going to retain now Archbishop Georg Ganswein [affectionately referred to in the Italian press as "Bella Giorgio" - their use of the feminine, not mine] as his papal secretary and head of the papal household?The selection of Ganswein, and the designation of his duties strategically placing him in the new papacy, was made PRIOR to the conclave. Does this mean that B16 decided in advance who would be the papal gatekeeper for the Argentinian Jesuit? Who is really calling the shots in the Vatican? What kind of pope would accept such an arrangement, such a limit on his own prerogatives? Does this mean that B16 will be actually calling the shots from the isolation of his retirement?I would feel a lot more reassured if reports surface after F1 and B16 meet in the next few days that B16 is elated that other arrangements at another monastery or retirement home have been made and that he will not be taking up residence across the Vatican gardens from the Apostolic Palace. [Do you really think that F1 will eschew his new digs in the Palace? Maybe he will take the room just next door to B16 in the monastery? Those poor nuns, now they will never have any peace.]In the past when new popes would speak of their "brother of fond memory" at least they and everyone else were reassured that the predecessor was actually RIP. It's a lot easier to ignore politely what is now entombed: Out of sight, out of mind!

Following Karl Jaspers, Paul Ricoeur speaks of political evils. These ae evils that holders of political office perpetrate in the course of exercising their official functions. Some of these evils establish or perpetrate policies or practices thast unjustly favor or disfavor some of their fellow citizens. These are domestic political evils. analogously, some of these evils are perpetrated against foreign states or their citizens. Responsibility for remedying these domestic or international wrongs falls not only on the guilty officials but also on their fellow citizens who benefit from these wrongdoings "independently of their individual acts or their degree of acquiescence in state politics. Whoever has taken advantage of the benefits of public order must in some way answer for the evils created by the state to which he or she belongs." (Paul Ricoeur, "Memory, History, Forgetting," U. of Chicago Press, 2004, page 475.Apply this conception to evils perpetrated by officials in the course of exercising their offices. Not an easy task, but not an impossible one. I take it that only institutionalized evils are genuine examples of collective guilt. At bottom, only individual are agents. There are no collective agents, though agents may cooperate to increase the impact of their individual actions. E.g., ballplayers palying baseball together.Collective responsibility is something else. If both x and y have responsibility for some institutional evil, it may be that some action of x will make it unnecessary for y to take any remedial action.This is rather rough and cryptic, but I hope that it is intelligible, whether one accepts it or not.

Should we not expect (demand, actually ....) more from those who have more power, access and authority than we do from the average shlupp?

"Responsibility for remedying these domestic or international wrongs falls not only on the guilty officials but also on their fellow citizens who benefit from these wrongdoings independently of their individual acts or their degree of acquiescence in state politics. Whoever has taken advantage of the benefits of public order must in some way answer for the evils created by the state to which he or she belongs. "Bernard - I agree with everything in the second paragraph of your comment. Regarding this quote from Ricoeur which I've pasted here - I'm not so sure.For example: suppose that the war in Iraq is deemed an unjust - that is, sinful - war. It was perpetrated by an identifiable group of elected officials and their appointees. These officials exercised authority over every member of the American public, and every member of the American public benefited in some way from that exercise - as Ricoeur notes, we were all beneficiaries of whatever peace and prosperity there was during that era. But I wouldn't hold every member of the American public responsible for the Iraq War. Many of them, including not a few folks who post and comment here, worked strenuously to not put those officials in place, to not re-elect them, they spoke out publicly against the war, and so on. Those members of the American public can reasonably claim that they did what was in their power to prevent the war from happening. I don't consider them culpable.(Beyond that, there is the matter of the remoteness of the cooperation in an enterprise like the Iraq War).

About stuff like energy waste, or really almost anything, you can make a difference by who you vote for, by changing your own behavior, by making others more aware of the problem. Places like are all about that.

On collective responsibility (with an eye to the quote from Ricoeur supplied by Bernard Dauenhauer): in the late 90s, Serbia under its president, Slobodan Milosevic, conducted ethnic cleansing in Kosovo to rid it of its Albanian population. In the subsequent NATO effort to end ethnic cleansing, NATO bombed various dual use facilities in Serbia, bridges and electric power stations, for example. Civilian casualties and collatoral damage resulted. At the time, this was justified in part by the fact the Milosevic had been elected as a known nationalist of extreme views whose policies the Serbian people applauded. Were they collectively responsible? And were the NATO attacks thus justified in trying to end the ethnic cleansing in Kosov.The fire bombing of Tokyo and Dresden by the Allies in WWII seems somewhat analogous. Views?

We certainly must demand more from those who have more power etc. But there is no conclusive evidence about Bergoglio's involvement in that whole imbroglio. I remind again that Amnesty International cleared him when the question came up in the 2005 conclave. No doubt there will be many articles and books that are coming with the resulting conspiracy theories and murders. Like the endless conjectures about the Da Vinci Code and the JFK assassination. Further as John XXIII showed so well, a pope cannot control his subordinates. Especially if they are priests. The worry about Ratzinger is well taken. Despite his avowal of "unconditional obedience" he really embarrassed himself when he criticized the historic prayer meeting with other faiths by John Paul II. Francis is already showing Ratzinger up. Perhaps if Ratzinger had to take a bus or cook for himself he might have abdicated sooner. I am sure that Francis will not imprison Benedict XVI the way Boniface VIII imprisoned the former pope. But he might be tempted.

Jim Pauwels, I don't think that we disagree or that there is any problem with what Ricoeur says. Sometiimes it will be the case that some people's only opportunity to work against a political or institutional evil is to vote against those who perpetuate the evil, or to protest against it, or to speak against it with their friends and neighbors etc. Indeed, I think that there are enough institutional evils from which I benefit that i could spend my whole life protesting against them. Thart would make no sense. I ought to look for ways to be as effective as i can while still doing my job, having a good family life, praying, etc. The point is not that we could ever "do enough" so that nothing else would be called for. Since this is our condition, the question of culpability arises only if I refuse to acknowledge that I'm benefiting in ways that I don't deserve to and do not do what I reasonably can to rectify that situation. In short, our task is to be alert for the unwarranted advantages that some institution may provide some of us, e.g. advantages that we white people had from institutionalized racism. We ought to look for ways to work for racial justice. The same goes for other matters, economic, social, class, educational, etc. But again, while not letting ourselves off the hook too readily, we have to be careful about charging others with blatant culpability.Again, all this is rough and lacking in subtlety. But i do think it serves as an indication of a proper way to think about such things. At least I hop so.

Our government of, by and for the people was torturing prisoners until recently when the incumbent president stopped it, not permanently. Currently it is assassinating people around the world, and even though the we are not permitted to know all the details, it is assassinating whoever it wishes in our names. Faced with an outrageous chain of dumb, corrupt and idiotic money scams, our government strove mightily -- and fairly successfully-- to keep bondholders and other holders of exotic investment instruments in the scammming organizations, not to mention their highly valuable executives, whole while letting folks with shattered mortgages go belly-up on their own.Archbishop Bergoglio might find an analysis of the last item interesting. But I would say that, overall, with our recent record, we ought to be buying drapes for our glass house.

Ms. Steinfels - you state: "The fire bombing of Tokyo and Dresden by the Allies in WWII seems somewhat analogous. Views?"Collective Guilt - well, yes, guess that this is a notion of collective guilt but what does that really mean?How about apartheid in South Africa and their Truth and Reconciliation Commission - what we know is that there was collective guilt and that it was named and a course of action was laid out - but, in general, folks were not hauled off to jail.Fire bombings - given the nature of World War II, it is hard to label the fire bombings as collective guilt....both sides did it. What about Hiroshima and Nagaski?In terms of the Argentine Dirty War - the Catholic episcopal conference did later apologize and admit collective guilt. Obviously, that helps but not if you were part of a family whose members disappeared, were killed, or tortured.

Re: Collective GuiltThere are some people who have special gifts in regards to moral life. The classic examples of "collective guilt" for our time will always be Nazi Germany, I should think. But, frankly, how many of us could realistically aspire to the role accepted by Dietrich Bonhoeffer? We are awed, inspired. But do we have that capacity? Would we criticise our sister for not acting thusly? Certainly Bonhoeffer did not. But neither did he consider that inaction was acdceptable (nor,of ocurse, that the role of Chutch in Germany was remotely consistent with the Gospels.)"...and what does the Lord require of you but to seek justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly in the presence of your God." (Micah 6:8) Sounds individual not collective to me. But what does it actually mean? I find useful the modest guidance of Sister Corita Kent, IHM: "Accept an asisgnment. Then you don't have to be responsible for everything." We have to live our lives forward - the arrow of time and all that. I can't speak for any of you, but I find it entirely difficult enough to live my own life, one day at a time, in accord with what I take to be Micah's and Sister Corita's guidance. Worrying about collective guilt in Argentina or over events in world history that occurred before I was born? Mark

May Francis be the one-eyed man in the land of the blind.

Collective guilt. Reminds me that when everyone is guilty, no one is guilty, which is a takeoff of this:

Speaking of collective guilt, there's a more in-depth article about Francis and the dirty war at ABC news ....

Ms. Steinfels - masters thesis from a Vincentian: points:- An accurate historical judgment cannot prescind from careful study of the cultural conditioning of the times Yet the consideration of mitigating factors does not exonerate the Church from the obligation to express profound regret for the weaknesses of so many of her sons and daughters (MR 4.2 quoting TMA 35). This same document disclaims for the faithful today a personal responsibility for the sins of those who lived in the past,although we bear the burden of the sins in virtue of our being one with the sinners. - C OLLECTIVE G UILT AND C OLLECTIVE R ESPONSIBILITY The document states a difficult situation: The difficulty that emerges is that of defining past faults,above all, because of the historical judgement which this requires. In events of the past, one must always distinguish the responsibility or fault that can be attributed to members of the Church as believers from that which should be referred to society during the centuries of Christendom or to power structures in which the temporal and spiritual were closely intertwined. An historical hermeneutic is therefore more necessary than ever in order to distinguish correctly between the action of the Church as community of faith and that of society in the times when an osmosis existed between them (MR 1, 4).- Important in Arendts and Jaspers respective positions is the distinction between blame and responsibility. Blame implies intent, whereas responsibility refers to the liability of your position in society. This distinction made a lot of difference in how the Jews were treated in Europe before and during the Great Wars.- For Arendt, the acknowledgement of collective guilt is aplea of personal and political irresponsibility. Similar toeverybodys business is nobodys business, so is the view that when everybody pleads guilty nobody is responsible. One can claim s/he is only a bureaucrat doing what s/he is supposed to do. But then, where is the personal responsibility? Or according to an ideology that s/he is merely an outcome of history or nature, so where is the responsibility? Arendt sees bureaucracy and ideology as obstructions to political responsibility. Political responsibility is a sine qua non for the pursuit of social justice which cannot be merely realized through individual responsibility.-

Claire asked:What is my individual responsibility when it seems that, often, I have but little choice?Denounce them loudly and self-righteously, so that all may know that (I, you, whoever) is toeing the line and holding one's head high. Oh, we happy few...

I think it was inevitable that questions are being raised about our new Pope regarding his actions during dictatorship. it was the first thing that occurred to me when I heard his name announced yesterday. During those years in Latin American countries under military rule, those opposed to the policy of systematic arrests, torture and secret (and not so secret) murders , the options were to speak out and denounce those responsible publicly; create internal human rights organizations to document the crimes of the regime and work with solidarity and human rights groups abroad; find ways to utilize personal or institutional ties to the military and other security forces to try to save lives or get prisoners released; flee the country; work around press censorship and the suppression of political parties and trade unions to create new or alternative sources of information and opposition activity or an armed opposition group. Among the questions those in opposition faced (always at some and in certain periods, grave danger) was how to reconcile the urgent necessity to document and denounce the horrific crimes of the military regimes with the equally urgent necessity to do everything possible to save lives and obtain the release of prisoners. We should not forget that the founders of a human rights commission under Church auspices in El Salvador in the late 1970's were all assassinated by the mid-80's, including Monsenor Romero. Clearly, in Argentina, as in most of the rest of Latin America, there were, shamefully and inexcusably, members of the Church hierarchy who fully supported the military torturers and killers. Some even directly participated in their crimes. All of those who knowingly supported, participated or cooperated with torture and murder ( including officials in the United States) are guilty of terrible crimes and grave sins. May God have mercy on them. But for those who opposed the Latin American dictatorships, and I would count then Fr. Bergoglio among them, and who remained in the country, I'm not sure we have the moral standing to judge the difficult and oftentimes impossible choices forced on by circumstances they neither chose nor anticipated. They deserve our sympathy and our solidarity.

A clarification: I meant to say that some American government officials were complicit in the crimes of the Latin American military dictatorships. I'm not suggesting that US Catholic officials were in any way responsible.

"But for those who opposed the Latin American dictatorships, and I would count then Fr. Bergoglio among them, and who remained in the country, Im not sure we have the moral standing to judge the difficult and oftentimes impossible choices forced on by circumstances they neither chose nor anticipated. They deserve our sympathy and our solidarity."Charles Rohrbacher - well said.

Thanks all for your reflections. Mr. deHaas, I will pursue the link you post. Mr. Rohrbacher, thanks for your information and analysis.This whole issue came to mind because of the speed with which the accusations of complicity came up; some have been answered, but not others. One interesting media view seems to be that a Jesuit provincial is like an episcopal leader. Those who have watched the Jesuits over recent years know that many are not on the same page as the local bishop, in fact, quite the opposite.

Bernard - I am always happy when we are in agreement :-)

At the risk of boring you all to death, let me add a bit to the matter of political evils that I talked about above. There are also political goods, goods brought about by political leaders and the citizens who support them. Consider some elementary things such as police protection, food inspection, air traffic control. Now consider the state budget. It deals with the production of goods and their distribution. As such it distributes benefits and burdens. No particular budget or series of budgets is perfect, but some are better and fairer than others. Citizens have a responsibility to encourage good budgeting practices and those officials who are guided by them.Briefly, there is a "collective responsibility" that all competent citizens have to support good government. Of course, there are arguments about which governmental practices are indeed for the common good and which are not. There are also wide differences in the kinds of support citizens can give to such practices. Some of us have more education, time, health, etc. than others do. But we all should do what we can. One thing that runs counter to support for good government, and i can't present the argument for this here, but I hope it is intuitively recognizable, is the hunt for evidence of culpability in our fellow citizens for failing to give this support. Better to praise and encourage than to look for grounds for blame in such matters.Finally, all political practice belongs to the domain of practical wisdom, a domain that claims no absolute certainty for the "conclusions" it arrives at.Disclosure: I have written some articles about "collective responsibility." They have been found publishable. And also worthy of strong criticism!

I too am grateful for Charles Rohrbacher's informative and careful analysis. Further research and discussion may be indeed be helpful, but life, especially in very difficult circumstances, doesn't necessarily fit into neat boxes labeled "black" and "white."As Margaret Steinfels has pointed out, Father Bergoglio was not a member of the Argentine episcopate in the years of the military dictatorship. He was, for part of the regime's life, the Jesuit provincial, with a six-year term. What role did other provincials of men's and women's communities play during this period? Is there a standard, carefully researched history of the Church's role during the junta's control?I write this as someone who believes that we need not canonize every pope, in life or in death.

line 2: strike the first "be"

Again today the allegations of the journalist Verbitsky are brought up in an op-ed by the novelist Martin Caparros, with no mention that they were never substantiated and that Bergoglio's role was defended, not only by himself, but by others in the human rights community. Unsubstantiated charges, repeated often enough, create the impression that they are true but unadmitted. Look how long the ridiculous canard about President Obama being a Muslim persisted. I think our obligation to truth cuts both ways. We cannot support the endless retelling of unsubstantiated stories, even as we can't whitewash known facts of history that are inconvenient.This report from CBS was more balanced, I thought, although it relied too much on a single source, Rubin, for its information concerning the material that supports a positive view of Bergoglio's actions.

Apropos of Rita Ferrone's point: "our obligation to truth cuts both ways. We cannot support the endless retelling of unsubstantiated stories, even as we cant whitewash known facts of history that are inconvenient." And somewhat off-topic...Wednesday evening (day of papal election), we went to see Verdi's Don Carlo. Opera fans will know that the Grand Inquisitor plays a large role, a nefarious one. Verdi's view, that of a 19th century anti-clerical, anti-Emperior, has Phillip of Spain in a nefarious role as well. My impression is that the historiography of the Inquisition has undergone a revisionist examination, and much that we think we "know" about it is not accurate. Watching and listening to the odious Grand Inquisitor (looking like the Walrus-like "river spirit" in "Spirited Away"), I couldn't help but think about the ways in which "old" history is repeated and kept alive, in this case by the beautiful music.

Bernard Dauenhauer: Can you provide any links to your essay(s)? Thanks.

When I read these posts, I think that collective guilt is a political concept developed to apportion reparations. But I think of sin as an individual responsibility; that is, the individual members of a group can sin, but the group itself does not. Individual confession and the story of God sparing Sodom and Gomorrah in Gn 18:16-33 if only 10 good people can be found seem apropos. That said, the group as the single best, though imperfect representative, may be appropriate level to assess reparations for any number of practical reasons.

In this afternoon's press briefing, Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, issued a strong statement defending Father Bergoglio's role during the dictatorship, and pointing out that Bergoglio has several times publicly responded to the charges in the intervening years.I am unable to link to the site, but I am sure that someone with better skills than mine can.

Bruce, FWIW, collective guilt was not developed to apportion reparations. It arose in its modern form as -- in the title of Karl Jaspers' book on the topic -- "The Question of German Guilt." Germany was not, at the time, in a position to pay reparations to anybody. It wasn't even a construct of liberal lawyers. And, although individuals are responsible for their own sins, as Pope Benedict wrote, "No one lives alone. No one sins alone; no one is saved alone."

John Page: maybe this is it:

Do I recall correctly that Cardinal Ratzinger when of the Holy Office criticized the idea of "structural sin"? Seems obvious there is, but what was he after?

The Benedict quote about nobody sinning alone is from Spe Salvi, 47. That is later than the Holy Office Ratzinger. Maybe the difference is having time to reflect on the subject of his three non-papal papal books, Jesus of Nazareth. Such results have been known to happen from reflection.

Re Margaret's 10:56 am this morning:Unfortunately, I don't know whether there are links or how to make them. The following is the best I can do.1. "Responding to Evil;" Southern Journal of Philosophy, Vol.XLV, no.2, 2007.Abstract: In this paper I argue that moral and political evils, even though they are all contingent, as so pervasive and persistent that there is no practical way of responding to them that would lead eventually to the eradication of all of them. Instead, our practical task is to respond to these evils in ways that respect both the basic capabilities and the associated vulnerabilities that are constitutive of each human being. To do this most effectively, one should offer unconditional forgiveness to the perpetrators of evil. The attitude that can best underpin this forgiveness is on of properly understood indefeasible hope, a hope that always insists that each person is of greater worth than whatever he or she does.2. "Unconditional Forgiveness" A Defense" in "Ricoeiur and the Task of Political Philosophy," eds. Greg S. Johnson and Dan Stiver, Lexington Books, 2013.If someone wants to see "Unconditional Forgiveness: A Defense" please send me an email at [email protected] .com and I'll send you the paper as an attachment. Unfortunately, I can't offer the same for "Responding to Evil." I could make a hard copy and mail it to anyone who wants it.A promise. If anyone sends me an email about either of these matters, I will respond only to that email. You will not be subjected to any other stuff from me.Now all of you know how tech-savvy I am.

Thank you.

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?

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