The Accuser of the Brethren Gets Right to Work

So, within an hour or so, I get a comboxer waving a torch and pitchfork:

And what exactly should we expect from Mark Shea, who is supposedly anti-torture but has just now endorsed a Pope who is at least as complicit in torture (in Argentina’s Dirty War) as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were? It’s all there in the Wikipedia article, and the Spanish-language press.

Your beloved Pope Frankie was an enabler and supporter of the vicious, torturing right-wing Argentine military junta. How does that make you feel now?

One of the marks of the satanic presence is delight in accusation. In this particular case, the delight extends not only to the Pope but to me. I’m “supposedly anti-torture” but since I said something nice about Pope Francis, this is naturally a lie. How do we know? Because a Wikipedia article(!) and “the Spanish language press” (which I cannot read and is therefore conveniently unverifiable) have provided a total stranger who writes anonymously in my combox with a fig leaf for declaring him guilty, guilty, guilty of being “as complicit in torture (in Argentina’s Dirty War) as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were”. Indeed, he is, I am informed, “an enabler and supporter of the vicious, torturing right-wing Argentine military junta”. And the way I am supposed to know this is because my reader writes in a tone of High Moral Dudgeon, which only a fool would doubt.

Yeah. About that. If you want to convey a sense of moral outrage about something, it’s generally best to try to suppress that whole “note of glee” thing. Among those of us who are not members of the Dirt-Digging-American community, whose first thought is to assume innocence and not guilt, the tone of barely suppressed delight at the thought that somebody may have supported torture and murder sort of gives members of the Normal American community the sense that you don’t really care so much about the victims of torture as their utility in nailing somebody you hate with unreasoning fury. And this, in turn, leads to doubts about how reliable a picture you are painting about the object of your hatred. It is, of course, quite possible that, as many bishops and popes of demonstrated, Francis has feet of clay. He is, after all, Peter and it is hard to improve on that world-historical act of cowardice. But before I take up the torch and pitchfork, I have this strange notion that trial by Internet rumor is not quite sufficient for establishing guilt.

When I go out looking for something, what I find is this from the Associated Press, which seems to be the source for every non-AP story on this floating around right now. Reader Irenist offers some helpful italics:

At least two cases directly involved Bergoglio. One examined the torture of two of his Jesuit priests – Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics – who were kidnapped in 1976 from the slums where they advocated liberation theology. 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. Both men were freed after Bergoglio took extraordinary, behind-the-scenes action to save them – including persuading dictator Jorge Videla’s family priest to call in sick so that he could say Mass in the junta leader’s home, where he privately appealed for mercy. His intervention likely saved their lives, but Bergoglio never shared the details until [his authorized biographer Sergio] Rubin interviewed him for the 2010 biography.

Bergoglio – who ran Argentina’s Jesuit order during the dictatorship – told Rubin that he regularly hid people on church property during the dictatorship, and once gave his identity papers to a man with similar features, enabling him to escape across the border.

So we have an accusation.  And beyond the accusation we have… well, nothing.  Could he have buckled under pressure from a tyrannical regime. So did the first pope. If it’s true, it makes him a coward–if it’s true.  But an accusation is not an establishment of guilt.  Meanwhile, we also have this:

Bergoglio — who ran Argentina’s Jesuit order during the dictatorship — told Rubin that he regularly hid people on church property during the dictatorship, and once gave his identity papers to a man with similar features, enabling him to escape across the border. But all this was done in secret, at a time when church leaders publicly endorsed the junta and called on Catholics to restore their “love for country” despite the terror in the streets.

So here’s the funny thing (at least if you’re me).  On the one hand you have Bergoglio’s anonymous one-man judge, jury, and executioner in my combox, expanding some dubious sources and an accusation in an AP article into a sure and certain verdict of “guilty”.  Indeed, he’s actually equating Bergoglio with Bush and Cheney, which is like equating Peter (who, at worst, chickened out) with Caiaphas the High Priest who actively sought and engineered Jesus’ death.  That’s some lust to believe the worst, right there. But if Bergoglio was a “supporter” of the regime, why was he rescuing people from it?  That is a puzzle my anonymous prosecutor is not interested in.

So without, you know, evidence that Bergoglio is, you know, guilty of something, I’m not nearly as passionate as my reader is to condemn him.

Meanwhile, on the other hand, a reader writes, not to accuse, but in genuine puzzlement over the very thing that suggests my anonymous combox prosecutor is wrong:

You’re one of the few people I know who has been completely consistent on the question of whether Christians are ever justified in deceiving, so I’d be curious to hear your thoughts about this incident.

My take on this is pretty much St. Thomas’.  Not all deception is lying, but all lying is a sin.  So hiding people on Church property, while it may involve not telling authorities all one knows, is not lying.  Nor, depending on how it’s done, would be the loan of his ID papers  (a very dangerous and courageous thing for an allegedly cowardly supporter of the regime to do, by the way).  On the other hand, it’s possible that it did constitute lying.  Not having been there, I don’t know.  If it did, it was, as it was for the Hebrew midwives “not meritorious” that a lie was told, but it was meritorious that he acted in the fear of God.  As St. Thomas says:

Objection 2. Further, no one is rewarded by God for sin. But the midwives of Egypt were rewarded by God for a lie, for it is stated that “God built them houses” (Exodus 1:21). Therefore a lie is not a sin.

Objection 3. Further, the deeds of holy men are related in Sacred Writ that they may be a model of human life. But we read of certain very holy men that they lied. Thus (Genesis 12 and 20) we are told that Abraham said of his wife that she was his sister. Jacob also lied when he said that he was Esau, and yet he received a blessing (Genesis 27:27-29). Again, Judith is commended (Judith 15:10-11) although she lied to Holofernes. Therefore not every lie is a sin.

Objection 4. Further, one ought to choose the lesser evil in order to avoid the greater: even so a physician cuts off a limb, lest the whole body perish. Yet less harm is done by raising a false opinion in a person’s mind, than by someone slaying or being slain. Therefore a man may lawfully lie, to save another from committing murder, or another from being killed.

Reply to Objection 2. The midwives were rewarded, not for their lie, but for their fear of God, and for their good-will, which latter led them to tell a lie. Hence it is expressly stated (Exodus 2:21): “And because the midwives feared God, He built them houses.” But the subsequent lie was not meritorious.

Reply to Objection 3. In Holy Writ, as Augustine observes (Lib. De Mend. v), the deeds of certain persons are related as examples of perfect virtue: and we must not believe that such persons were liars. If, however, any of their statements appear to be untruthful, we must understand such statements to have been figurative and prophetic. Hence Augustine says (Lib. De Mend. v): “We must believe that whatever is related of those who, in prophetical times, are mentioned as being worthy of credit, was done and said by them prophetically.” As to Abraham “when he said that Sara was his sister, he wished to hide the truth, not to tell a lie, for she is called his sister since she was the daughter of his father,” Augustine says (QQ. Super. Gen. xxvi; Contra Mend. x; Contra Faust. xxii). Wherefore Abraham himself said (Genesis 20:12): “She is truly my sister, the daughter of my father, and not the daughter of my mother,” being related to him on his father’s side. Jacob’s assertion that he was Esau, Isaac’s first-born, was spoken in a mystical sense, because, to wit, the latter’s birthright was due to him by right: and he made use of this mode of speech being moved by the spirit of prophecy, in order to signify a mystery, namely, that the younger people, i.e. the Gentiles, should supplant the first-born, i.e. the Jews.

Some, however, are commended in the Scriptures, not on account of perfect virtue, but for a certain virtuous disposition, seeing that it was owing to some praiseworthy sentiment that they were moved to do certain undue things. It is thus that Judith is praised, not for lying to Holofernes, but for her desire to save the people, to which end she exposed herself to danger. And yet one might also say that her words contain truth in some mystical sense.

Reply to Objection 4. A lie is sinful not only because it injures one’s neighbor, but also on account of its inordinateness, as stated above in this Article. Now it is not allowed to make use of anything inordinate in order to ward off injury or defects from another: as neither is it lawful to steal in order to give an alms, except perhaps in a case of necessity when all things are common. Therefore it is not lawful to tell a lie in order to deliver another from any danger whatever. Nevertheless it is lawful to hide the truth prudently, by keeping it back, as Augustine says (Contra Mend. x).

  • Marthe Lépine

    It seems to me that, when someone in the media in general and the Internet in particular, throws accusations, there is never any sense of possible repentance and conversion (and confession and absolution of sins) on the part of the person being accused. However, things that happened 25, 30 or 40 years ago may have been wrong, but the guilt does not remain forever. A Catholic should at least take seriously the sentence in the Lord’s Prayer: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. There are certainly things in my own life, when I was in my mid-30s, that were not right, but they have been forgiven when I went to confession.

  • TheRealAaron

    It’s like Catholics will grasp at any possible straw to defend the pope! Even the truth!

  • Manfred Arcane

    The fact that the two leftist priests mentioned “kidnapped from the slums where they were advocating liberation theology” are still alive says it all: in much of Latin America in the 70s, such a combination of Jesuits promoting an anti-regime, left wing (if not actually Marxist) political agenda would have been DEAD PRIESTS. The fact that they were kidnapped by the Junta and are still alive today is the strongest evidence that Fr. Bergoglio did something to save them.

  • Irenist

    Indeed, he’s actually equating Bergoglio with Bush and Cheney, which is like equating Peter (who, at worst, chickened out) with Caiaphas the High Priest who actively sought and engineered Jesus’ death.

    I think this is an important point; thanks for articulating it so elegantly, Mark. *If* Cheney engineered torture (as I gather he did, but I haven’t looked into it thoroughly), that’s a very different level of complicity than an omission by someone else not to resist him firmly enough. The same would be true here, even assuming the worst of these accusations. At worst, the Holy Father would have failed to resist the regime always and everywhere; he was hardly an ally or supporter of it even on the most uncharitable reading.

    Further, I suspect that even if one were to read biographies of, e.g., courageous members of the French Resistance, what one would often find is moments of fearful nonresistance interspersed with the tales of heroism. As Lewis says somewhere, human willpower and enthusiasm have a sort of tidal, sinusoidal wavelike quality about them: no one (save Our Lord and His Mother) is sinless always every day. Living under military dictatorship can require navigating between deadly shoals on a daily basis for someone in a prominent position. I’d be surprised if any fellow sinner handled it perfectly on every occasion.

    And all this, of course, is assuming the most uncharitable interpretation of what we know. It is at least as likely, on what we know, that the Holy Father acted courageously and righteously in every one of the situations described, and the accusations are merely false.

    • Harpy

      This. And I think it is important to underscore that it assumes the “most uncharitable interpretation f what we know”. In situations where there is a resistance to a tyrannical regime, especially where you are outnumbered and/or outgunned, every action has to be weighed with respect to what it can accomplish. With hindsight the lack of an action might seem cowardly, but without being there and understanding what was known *at the time* (and lacking a visceral understanding of the situation on the ground) that label might be very far from the truth indeed.

      As an example, there may be a person willing to die for their cause, but it would be foolish to waste their life in a particular action if they assess that action does not have enough impact to justify their death.

  • Dan C

    The Dirty Wars were a tough time to say the least. Bergoglio was a Provincial of Jesuits and did not like the political opposition to the junta too much. That is fine, but he still acted on human rights measures on their behalf. He was subject to bishops, and here is where things get tough for the Argentinian Church (and Pio Laghi too) and this needs to be understood, the Church sided with the junta. Nearly all the way. Pio Laghi socialized with the military and played tennis with them. Paul the 6th and JP2 were not really speaking out against these pro-American client states’ serious horrifying abuses at this hour. These were dark days and maybe the Church is feeling some response to this in these countries.

    Bergoglio was subject to these men and also responsible for his Jesuits who he did not necessarily agree with all the time.

    Yes it was a hard time and a time the Church should reflect on carefully.

    • Mark Shea

      Yep. This pretty much sums it up. Calling him a “supporter” seems to me like calling Peter a “supporter” of Caiaphas. Declaring him as responsible as Bush/Cheney is for torture seems to me like calling Peter as responsible for the crucifixion as Pilate and Caiaphas. This, coupled with the resolute will to condemn (He celebrated Mass with a dictator in order to negotiate for the lives of victims of the regime! The horror!) just seems like a textbook example of sin making people stupid. I will await a seriously research account of his actions and not grab pitchfork and torch merely because some bigoted internet atheist snatched something from wikipedia and has elevated it a word from Sinai.

  • Andy, Bad Person

    Pssh! I’ll bet the new pope is even…a sinner!

    Imagine such a thing.