Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Pope Francis and the Dirty War: Valuable New Commentary

Good commentary on the new pope continues to pour forth. Here are several articles that strike me as particularly valuable--all dealing with questions about the dirty war in Argentina and how the new pope may (or should?) choose to address these questions.

Alan McCornick has just posted an exhaustively researched piece at his Hepzibah blog site. I strongly encourage readers interested in understanding the discussion of Bergoglio's response to the dirty war to read Alan's magisterial statement, which provides helpful exhibits and translations of some valuable Spanish-language commentary. What Alan doesn't say in his posting, but what readers should know, is that Alan lived and taught in Argentina for a number of years months, and has followed very closely the story of the notorious priest Christian von Wernich, former chaplain of the Buenos Aires Province Police, who was sentenced to prison in 2007 for his complicity in murders, kidnappings, and torture committed by the military junta.

Alan is well qualified to speak about the dirty war story, this is to say. He's also eminently fair, as he sifts the evidence about how Bergoglio appears to have responded to various challenges during the junta's reign of terror. He notes that there are those sifting this evidence primarily to look for dirt about the new pope. He's not among those.

In fact, he points out that though Argentinian journalist Horacio Verbitsky is being vilified by those who want to shut this conversation down, and who claim that any and all questions about Bergoglio's response to the dirty war are motivated by the desire to undermine him as pope, Verbitsky actually exonerates Bergoglio of the charge of complicity in the junta's kidnapping of two Jesuits under his authority.

Here's an excerpt from Alan's observations on that point:

The question today is the larger philosophical question of who is to blame when an entire system is corrupt.  How far does one go down the line in punishing Nazis and their collaborators, or hardliner communists in the East Bloc countries.  Or villagers in mafia-controlled Sicily, for that matter?  Must one speak out at the cost of losing one’s place as an insider, where one can do more good than if one “does the right thing” and takes a clear stand against evil?  
Is Bergoglio one of these?   Is he innocent enough?  There are a lot of people scratching for dirt, and I am concerned that Bergoglio might not be getting credit where credit is due.  In Amy Goodman’s interview with Verbitsky on Democracy Now, for example, Verbitsky gives a response which may surprise us, considering his damning statements about how Yorio, one of the priests under his charge, blamed Bergoglio for his arrest.  

Alan concludes:

In my view it’s not the man who failed to sway General Videla to free two of his priests in the 1970s we should worry about.  It’s not even the Cardinal Archbishop who tried to defeat the same-sex marriage rights of his fellow Argentines we should worry about.  In that battle, he was outweighed by his political opponent, President Cristina Kirchner, about whom he declared, "Women are naturally unfit for political office.  The natural order and facts tell us that man is the politician par excellence. The Scriptures show us that women are there to support men, who are the thinkers and the doers, but nothing more than that."  ** 
Ms. Kirchner proved him wrong and won handily.  Today, however, she is meeting her former opponent and paying her respects in her role as a head of state to the new ruler of the world’s Catholics in Rome.  She will be showing him considerably more deference. 
It’s what he does with that deference that we need to worry about. 

It's what he does now that he's pope that should concern us, first and foremost. It's what he chooses to do with the difficult experiences through which he lived during the dirty war, experiences in which we ourselves may very well have been less noble than others we're now tempted to reproach, that needs to concern us.

Now that Francis is pope, what will he do with the life God gave him to lead up to the time of his papal election--and how will that life translate into the way he fulfills his calling to serve the body of Christ and strengthen its oneness by his kenotic service?

Here's Melinda Henneberger in the Washington Post on that question:

We should, however, expect that when the white smoke clears and the crowds go home, Francis will tell us the truth about his record on both matters, as difficult as it might be for him to say and for us to hear.

The "both matters" to which Henneberger is referring are Bergoglio's response to sexual abuse of minors by priests in Argentina, and to the dirty war. To those asking why we should care about what Bergoglio did in the past, I hear Henneberger saying, The pope's previous record counts now because he's the pope now. Those of us looking to him for the best pastoral leadership possible want to know how he'll deal with the history he brings to his Petrine ministry--because we want to know how he'll pastor us in light of that history.

Truth about his past is not too much for us to ask.

(As an aside, but connected to Henneberger's article: I also recommend Sarah Posner at Religion Dispatches today on Francis's record in dealing with the clerical sexual abuse crisis in Argentina.)

And here's Colleen Baker at Enlightened Catholicism:

The behavior of the Roman Catholic Church in South America during the 70's and 80's is much more than a story of what the then Argentinian Jesuit Provincial and current Pope Francis may or may not have done.  It's way beyond that.  It's about a systematic implementation of a CIA strategy designed to keep American global corporate interests ascendant and the organized opposition to that ascendancy in check. In this geo political game, Pope Francis was a bit player, a loyal Jesuit soldier under the command of his clerical superiors in Argentina and Rome.  He isn't any longer.  He is on the throne, no longer a mostly disengaged member of the College of Cardinals and that fact has opened the door to that very fast moving conveyor belt.  The Vatican press office can try to stop that conveyor belt with denials, denunciations, and self righteous anger, but it isn't going to work any better now than the same strategy did at the beginning of the clerical abuse crisis.  For all the Vatican's efforts at minimizing that crisis and stopping the conveyor belt behind that door, the belt is still running. The Church can not get off it and the exit has not been reached.  

And so Colleen concludes:

Pope Francis needs to open all the secret doors and windows and files and archives so that the Church can finally function in the light and not in shadows.  

Wise statements about the tortured history of the dirty war and how it affected the new pope from three good commentators, it seems to me . . . .

The graphic is a photograph of pictures of some of the desaparecidos during the military junta, taken by Pablo D. Flores in Rosario, Argentina, in 2008, and at Wikimedia Commons.

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