The new pope…and the Argentine junta


The two Jorges: Bergoglio, now Pope Francis I, and General Videla, chief of the Argentine junta…face to face*. And, according to the UK Guardian, they were once hand in glove, as well.

To the judicious and fair-minded outsider it has been clear for years that the upper reaches of the Argentine 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.

As it happens, in the week before Christmas in the city of Córdoba Videla and some of his military and police cohorts were convicted by their country’s courts of the murder of 31 people between April and October 1976, a small fraction of the killings they were responsible for. The convictions brought life sentences for some of the military. These were not to be served, as has often been the case in Argentina and neighbouring Chile, in comfy armed forces retirement homes but in common prisons. Unsurprisingly there was dancing in the city’s streets when the judge announced the sentences.

What one did not hear from any senior member of the Argentine 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 Argentine 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.

Contrary to some reports, Bergoglio is NOT a supporter of Liberation Theology, and never has been. Despite making much of the saintliness of clerical poverty, and (to his partial credit) leading a fairly down-to-Earth life himself, he was not what you’d truly call a people’s priest; if he were, he’d have been gunned down by the junta’s fascist forerunners, the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance — like, say, the wonderfully radical Father Carlos Mugica, who worked for social justice in the slums of Buenos Aires and was much beloved by his flock:

Bergoglio is no Mugica. He would not have risen as high in the church as he did if he were. His human-rights record is very checkered and mixed. He is, in short, no saint. And he is downright reactionary on at least one of the key social issues in today’s Argentina, too:


Translation: Marriage equality is of the devil. Well, thanks for sharing that, padre. Unfortunately, Jesus said absolutely no words to that effect, and that’s who I’m going to take as my final authority on the matter. Jesus was very clear that you should minister to the poor and care for the sick, visit prisoners, feed the hungry, and clothe the naked. He said nothing at all about demonizing LGBT people or relegating them to less-than-equal social status. And if what you did (or failed to do) during the dictatorship doesn’t come back to haunt you, these intemperate words should.

They say you’re a “reformer”, Padre Bergoglio? We shall see. But I won’t hold my breath.

*Actually, he’s the one standing behind Videla, on the right. Somehow, that seems rather appropriate.

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