Pope Francis: strong on economic issues, vulnerable on Argentinian death squads

The new pope is an anti-gay bigot, but you knew that would be the case before the pick was announced. On that front, we may as well just be relieved that the cardinals didn’t pick Peter Turkson, who has defended laws that would give the death penalty for homosexuality.

More interesting is news that the new pope, the former Cardinal Jorge Borgolio, is apparently known for his concern for economic justice. According to Sara Lin Wilde, writing at Friendly Atheist:

Considered a moderate with the potential to bridge the divide between progressive and conservative church factions, Bergoglio seems to signal a push for renewal in Catholicism. He is the first-ever Latin-American pontiff — indeed, the first non-European in centuries — and the first Jesuit priest to ascend to the Chair of St. Peter. Both facts could be significant. The Jesuit order is known for its missionary zeal, charitable works, and intellectual activity on theological matters, and the concerns of Latin American Church leaders often differ considerably from those of European and North American prelates. When it comes to Catholic social justice, Bergoglio is used to focusing on economic inequality, not sexual politics.

He further indicated his search for a new direction by selecting a name no pontiff has ever used before: Francis, after the popular Saint Francis of Assisi. The name fits. Bergoglio is known amongst the cardinals as a compassionate figure who eschews the fancier perks of his office: he gave up the archbishop’s palace to live in a simple apartment in Buenos Aires, and he traded in the archbishops’ limo for a bus pass.

These are all promising signs for the Vatican-watchers who wonder how the Curia can live in such opulence while children starve or who harbor concerns about the Vatican’s financial management.

Unfortunately, he’s been accused of being complicit in the crimes of the Argentinian military dictatorship of the late 70s and early 80s. According to the current version of a Wikipedia article that will no doubt be the site of edit wars in days to come:

Critics have accused him of ignoring the plight of victims during the country’s military dictatorship from 1976–1983, despite victims and their relatives relating first-hand accounts of torture, death and kidnappings to the priests he supervised as the local provincial of the Jesuit Order.

On 15 April 2005, a human rights lawyer filed a criminal complaint against Bergoglio, as superior in the Society of Jesus of Argentina, accusing him of involvement in the kidnapping by the Navy in May 1976 (during the military dictatorship) of two Jesuit priests. The priests, Orlando Yorio and Franz Jalics, were found alive five months later, drugged and semi-naked. Yorio accused Bergoglio of effectively handing them over to the death squads by declining to tell the regime that he endorsed their work. Jalics refused to discuss it after moving into seclusion in a German monastery. Horacio Verbitsky, an Argentine investigative journalist and author, wrote a book about this and other related events titled El Silencio: de Paulo VI a Bergoglio: las relaciones secretas de la Iglesia con la ESMA.

According to the book, after their release, Yorio accused the then Provincial of his Jesuit order San Miguel, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, to have denounced him. Father General Pedro Arrupe in Rome was informed by letter or during the abduction, both he and Orlando Yorio were excluded from the Jesuit Order.

According to his own testimony in his autobiography, after the priests’ imprisonment, Bergoglio worked behind the scenes for their release; his intercession with dictator Jorge Rafael Videla on their behalf may have saved their lives.[23] “The cardinal could not justify why these two priests were in a state of helplessness and exposed,” said Zamora, insisting Bergoglio’s testimony “demonstrates the role of the Church during the last military dictatorship.”

You can read more about accusations in this Guardian article. This aspect of the story will be worth watching in days to come. As noted by a commenter at Friendly Atheist, this isn’t something that can be brushed off on the grounds that, “hey, everyone was in the Hitler Youth at the time.”

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