Friday, March 15, 2013

Pope Francis: More Testimony to Be Considered

And yet more commentary--this by way of corroboration of the primary testimony of the three key pieces of testimony to which I just pointed readers, which have caused me to stop and listen (and keep praying and hoping, even as I refuse to shut down my mind and to silence the voice of my conscience):

In January 2011, long before it would be known that Cardinal Bergoglio would become Pope Francis, Hugh O'Shaughnessy wrote an article on the sins of the Argentinian church for The Guardian, which is now being reviewed with great interest. The article relies on the testimony of Argentinian journalist Horacio Verbitsky, author of the book El Silencio, and it reaches a damning conclusion about the complicity of the "upper reaches of the Argentinian church" in the atrocities committed by the junta during the dirty war.

O'Shaughnessy writes,

If these words comforted and encouraged me they will surely have done the same for leaders of the church in Argentina, among many others. To the judicious and fair-minded outsider it has been clear for years that the upper reaches of the Argentinian church contained many "lost sheep in the wilderness", men who had communed and supported the unspeakably brutal western-supported military dictatorship that seized power in that country in 1976 and battened on it for years. Not only did the generals slaughter thousands unjustly, often dropping them out of aeroplanes over the River Plate and selling off their orphan children to the highest bidder, they also murdered at least two bishops and many priests. Yet even the execution of other men of the cloth did nothing to shake the support of senior clerics, including representatives of the Holy See, for the criminality of their leader General Jorge Rafael Videla and his minions.

An important disclaimer has appeared under the text of this article at The Guardian's website following the election of Pope Francis. It states that the original version of the article "wrongly 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."

This is testimony that in every particular needs to be taken seriously now as we sift and listen to understand what happened with the leaders of the Argentinian Catholic church during the dirty war. On the one hand, what O'Shaughnessy says about the many top leaders of that national church who actively cooperated with the military dictatorship in Argentina is absolutely correct and cannot be denied--and should not be forgotten. On the other hand, the record about Bergoglio himself has been corrected, and that piece of evidence also has to be taken into serious consideration.

People I know whose judgment I trust, who have far closer knowledge of Argentinian culture and Catholicism than I do, are telling me that Verbitsky actually defends Bergoglio's record during the dirty war. But note, too, what Argentinian writer Martín Caparrós has to say in his op-ed piece in the New York Times today about the new pope: 

The hierarchy of Argentina’s Catholic Church was complicit with the military genocide. Some researchers, like the journalist Horacio Verbitsky, have linked Cardinal Bergoglio with the "desaparición" — the disappearance, in May 1976, of two Jesuit priests, Francisco Jalics and Orlando Yorio, who worked in the slums of Buenos Aires. Both were kidnapped and tortured. The cardinal has always denied involvement, but many Argentines remain convinced that he "withdrew protection" from the priests, allowing the military to prey on them.

"Many Argentines remain convinced that he 'withdrew protection' from the priests": this testimony can't simply be dismissed out of hand, can it? Not if we're seeking the truth about these matters.

I'm also considering carefully the interview Juan González and Amy Goodman just did for Democracy Now with Verbitsky, in which Verbitsky states that Bergoglio employed a "double standard" in his dealings with the two Jesuits kidnapped by the junta, and I'm listening carefully to what theologian Mary Hunt, who has taught in Argentina, tells Sarah Posner in this interview at Religion Dispatches about Bergoglio's "Jesuitical" way of dealing with the complexities presented to him by the military leadership as a Jesuit leader.

I also hear Mary Hunt say in this interview that she doubts Bergoglio was actively complicit in the atrocities committed by the military dictatorship, and I take her testimony seriously (though I don't know Hunt well and my few dealings with her over the years have always been a bit prickly), because she is a theologian whom I respect, who has lived in Argentina and who knows liberation theology well.

And through it all, I continue to think, along with Jack Jenkins in this statement at Think Progress, that people of all ideological stripes and walks of life should concern themselves with who the new pope is and how he turns out to govern the Catholic church. For this reason alone, I intend strongly to resist the attempt of leading centrist Catholic journalists right now to shut down, or if they cannot do that, manage the conversation about Francis's previous history, his connections to the dirty war, his approach to liberation theology, and his remarks about gay and lesbian rights.

We are well beyond the point when these conversations can be productively shut down or managed from the center. We have just lived through a history-making moment in which a pope has resigned--precisely because our church is in serious disarray.

And it happens to be in serious disarray and suffering from serious fatigue precisely because too few people have sought to manage everything from the center for too long now. This is not a workable model for a worldwide communion that calls itself catholic.

No matter how strongly Catholic centrists now choose to play games pitting LGBT rights against the rights of "real" poor folks, and no matter how much they continue to try to marginalize Catholics who  defend liberation theology and who fight for LGBT rights, these questions about how the church has dealt with liberation theology, the poor in Latin American, and LGBT human beings are not going to vanish simply because centrists order the conversation to cease. They have grown only more acute under the leadership of two popes with whom it appears Francis may well stand solidly allied, even as he tries to change the image the church presents to many people around the world.

Many of us are extremely weary of the window dressing and the image management games played by centrist elites colluding with those providing new curtains for tired old windows, and we have every right  to keep on talking about what's real and what should really matter. It's our church and our world, too, after all--not just a church and world that belong to managerial elites. And seeing our church respond to the real world in a really at-one-ing way matters intently to a lot of us who do not occupy the seats of power in the church.

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