Saturday, March 16, 2013

Weekend News: Discussion of Pope Francis and Dirty War a Top Story Worldwide

As the weekend arrives, the story that won't go away remains front and center in news everywhere: what happened in the Argentinian dirty war, and how does that history connect to the promise of reform the new pope Francis is supposed to represent? Lizzie Davies sums up the story for English readers in The Guardian yesterday, noting that the papal press spokesperson Fr. Lombardi is blaming "anti-clerical, leftwing" critics of the pope for circulating the story.

For German audiences, Annette Langer rehearses the story in the Spiegel. As I read the various news sites I follow daily on this fine St. Patrick's day eve, it's the top story at Truthdig: "Did You Hear the One About the Pope and the Dirty War?" The New York Times is prominently featuring an article by Daniel Wakin on this topic, in which the following line makes me sit up and think: "It was not clear how much the cardinals who elected Francis delved into that past."

As are many others, Andrew Sullivan is reporting at his Dish site that one of the two Jesuits kidnapped during the junta, an event about which there have been questions of Bergoglio's involvement--Fr. Francisco Jalics--has told the media that he and Bergoglio are reconciled and he considers the matter closed. Sullivan's observation:

That doesn’t exactly exonerate Bergoglio on the facts but when the victim has reconciled with the alleged violator, and considers the matter closed, we can look forward rather than back.

At the Nation site, an article about the pope is also the top story as I click to read the news today--Norman Birnbaum's "New Pope, Old Papacy." Birnbaum is less than sanguine about the possibility that Francis will initiate real reform in the Catholic church. A line from his report that makes me perk my ears:

A Jesuit colleague reminded me, wearily and warily, that Pope Francis is "very conservative."

And then there's this:

There is an Argentinian dispute as to whether the former cardinal’s sins were more than those of omission. In 2005, the Argentinian journalist Horacio Verbitsky published a book, El Silencio (The Silence), that contained specific charges against Father Bergoglio that he, in turn, denied. It is difficult to believe that the matter will rest. Whether it will permanently or profoundly impair the pope’s moral authority is an open question. This aspect of the pope’s past is, decidedly, at least as important as his penchant for cooking for himself, using public transport and abjuring ostentation. We will be hearing more of it in the weeks and months to come. 

I listen carefully as Eduardo Peñalver says the following at Commonweal

I think picking as pope someone who was actively involved in Church leadership in Argentina at that time necessarily raises many troubling questions. 

And when he also asks, 

Was Borgoglio just adopting uncritically the priorities of the Vatican?  Was he toadying up to his bosses?  Did he actually share the regime’s assessment of the political situation and the broad outlines of the extraordinary actions the regime justified on the basis of that assessment?  Any of these possibilities is disquieting.  And that is what is troubling to me about the stories about Borgoglio — even on the versions most favorable to him.  

I also listen to Sam Ferguson at the New Republic (by way of Greg Metzger at Faith and the Common Good):

Some prominent human rights activists have come to Bergoglio's defense. Argentine Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel, who was jailed and tortured by the dictatorship, told the BBC's Spanish-language service that Bergoglio "was not an accomplice of the dictatorship. … There were bishops who were accomplices of the Argentine dictatorship, but not Bergoglio."

And I intend to keep listening. This story won't go away, no matter how wildly the Vatican press fellow casts aspersions on anti-clerical leftists, or how inappropriately some of my fellow Catholics in the academy and media try to shut the story down by employing childish shaming techniques about casting the first stone or making rash judgment.

The story can't and shouldn't go away, if the reforms for which many of us have hoped and prayed are to be more than window-dressing. How Francis chooses to deal with this issue--how he chooses to lay it to rest, or whether he makes that choice--will tell us a great deal about what kind of pope he really intends to be after the media fanfare following his election dies down.

(Thanks to Jim McCrea for the copy of the Spiegel article.)

The photo of the Reuters news ticker in London is from Wikimedia Commons.

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