CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

Religion

March 14, 2013

Papal election stirs Argentina's 'dirty war' past

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Pope Francis is known for his humility, his reluctance to talk about himself. The self-effacement, admirers say, is why he has hardly ever denied one of the harshest allegations against him: That he was among church leaders who actively supported Argentina's murderous dictatorship.

It's without dispute that Jorge Mario Bergoglio, like most other Argentines, failed to openly confront the 1976-1983 military junta while it was kidnapping and killing thousands of people in a "dirty war" to eliminate leftist opponents.

But the new pope's authorized biographer, Sergio Rubin, argues that this was a failure of the Roman Catholic Church in general, and that it's unfair to label Bergoglio with the collective guilt that many Argentines of his generation still deal with.

"In some way many of us Argentines ended up being accomplices," at a time when anyone who spoke out could be targeted, Rubin recalled in an interview with The Associated Press just before the papal conclave.

Some leading Argentine human rights activists agree that Bergoglio doesn't deserve to be lumped together with other church figures who were closely aligned with the dictatorship.

"Perhaps he didn't have the courage of other priests, but he never collaborated with the dictatorship," Adolfo Perez Esquivel, who won the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize for documenting the junta's atrocities, said Thursday. "Bergoglio was no accomplice of the dictatorship. He can't be accused of that," Perez Esquivel told Radio de la Red in Buenos Aires.

Other activists are angry over the positions Bergoglio, 76, has taken in recent years, as Argentina pursues investigations aimed at exposing those responsible for killing as many as 30,000 people, and finding traces of their victims. Some say he's been more concerned about preserving the church's image than providing evidence for Argentina's many human rights trials.

"There's hypocrisy here when it comes to the church's conduct, and with Bergoglio in particular," said Estela de la Cuadra, whose mother co-founded the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo activist group during the dictatorship to search for missing family members. "There are trials of all kinds now, and Bergoglio systematically refuses to support them."

Bergoglio twice invoked his right under Argentine law to refuse to appear in open court in trials involving torture and murder inside the feared Navy Mechanics School and the theft of babies from detainees. When he eventually did testify in 2010, his answers were evasive, human rights attorney Myriam Bregman told the AP.

Bergoglio's own statements proved church officials knew from early on that the junta was torturing and killing its citizens even as the church publicly endorsed the dictators, she said. "The dictatorship could not have operated this way without this key support," she said.

Rubin, a religious affairs writer for the Argentine newspaper Clarin, said Bergoglio actually took major risks to save so-called "subversives" during the 1976-1983 dictatorship, but never spoke about it publicly before his 2010 biography, "The Jesuit."

In the book, Bergoglio wrote that he didn't want to stoop to his critics' level — and then shared some of his stories. Bergoglio said he once passed his Argentine identity papers to a wanted man with a similar appearance, enabling him to escape over the border to Brazil, and added that many times he sheltered people inside church properties before they were safely delivered into exile.

The most damning accusation against Bergoglio is that as the young leader of Argentina's Jesuit order, he withdrew his support for two slum priests whose activist colleagues in the liberation theology movement were disappearing. The priests were then kidnapped and tortured at the Navy Mechanics School, which the junta used as a clandestine prison.

Bergoglio said he had told the priests — Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics — to give up their slum work for their own safety, and they refused.

"I warned them to be very careful," Bergoglio told Rubin. "They were too exposed to the paranoia of the witch hunt. Because they stayed in the barrio, Yorio and Yalics were kidnapped."

But Yorio later accused Bergoglio of effectively delivering them to the death squads by declining to publicly endorse their work. Yorio is now dead, and Jalics has refused to discuss these events since moving into a German monastery.

Both priests were eventually dropped off blindfolded in a field after a harrowing helicopter ride, two of the few detainees to have survived that prison.

Rubin said Bergoglio only reluctantly told him the rest of the story: that he had gone to extraordinary, behind-the-scenes lengths to save them.

Then in his 30s, the Jesuit leader persuaded the family priest of feared dictator Jorge Videla to call in sick so that he could say Mass instead. Once inside the junta leader's home, Bergoglio privately appealed for mercy, Rubin wrote.

"Fortunately, a while later they were freed, first because they couldn't accuse them of anything, and second, because we moved like crazy people. The very night that I learned of their kidnapping, I began moving" to save them, Bergoglio recalled. All this was done in secret, at a time when other church leaders were publicly endorsing the junta and calling on Catholics to restore their "love for country" despite the terror in the streets. And other members of the slum church who were captured along with the priests were never seen again.

"It's a very sensitive subject," Rubin told the AP. "The Argentine church was one of the most conservative in Latin America. It showed a good disposition toward the military authorities, who, to make matters worse, considered themselves Christians and called themselves good Catholics."

Within the church hierarchy at the time, there were about 50 bishops, and most were conservatives. Some were very progressive, and ended up killed. Bergoglio was somewhere in the middle, Rubin suggested.

"There were some who were in it up to their necks," he said, citing Christian Federico von Wernich, who served as a police chaplain then and is now serving a life sentence for torture and kidnapping.

"There were those who risked it all to openly challenge the junta, and some of those ended up dead," Rubin added, among them Bishop Enrique Angelelli who was killed in a suspicious traffic accident in 1976 while carrying evidence about two murdered priests.

Rubin says activists closely allied with the government of President Cristina Fernandez "have tried to insert Bergoglio into some human rights trials, even when he truly shouldn't be."

On the other hand, activists say the Argentine church waited far too long to apologize for its human rights failures, and has yet to identify those responsible for many human rights violations that the church was aware of at the time.

Bergoglio was named Buenos Aires cardinal in 2001. But it wasn't until 2006, after then-President Nestor Kirchner declared an official day of mourning for Angelelli on the 30th anniversary of his death, that Bergoglio called him a "martyr" in the church's first official recognition that the bishop was murdered.

Under Bergoglio's leadership, Argentina's bishops also issued a collective apology in October 2012 for the church's failures to protect its flock during the dictatorship, but the statement blamed the era's violence in roughly equal measure on both the junta and its enemies.

"Bergoglio has been very critical of human rights violations during the dictatorship, but he has always also criticized the leftist guerrillas; he doesn't forget that side," Rubin said.

Bergoglio also was accused of turning his back on the De la Cuadra family, which lost five relatives to state terror, including Estela's sister Elena, who was five months' pregnant before she was kidnapped and killed in 1977.

The family appealed to the leader of the Jesuits in Rome, who urged Bergoglio to help them. Bergoglio then assigned a monsignor to talk with police, who gave them a heartbreaking statement: The woman was a communist, and therefore doomed, but she had given birth in captivity to a girl. That baby, in turn, was given to a family "too important" for the adoption to be reversed.

Despite this evidence in a case he was personally involved with, Bergoglio testified in 2010 that he didn't know about any stolen babies until well after the dictatorship was over.

"Bergoglio has a very cowardly attitude when it comes to something so terrible as the theft of babies," Estela de la Cuadra told the AP. "The question is how to save his name, save himself. But he can't keep these allegations from reaching the public. The people know how he is."

 

1
Text Only
Religion
  • SH blessing of throats.jpg Sacred Heart holds Blessing of the Throats

    Members of Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Cullman took part in the annual ancient tradition of the Blessing of Throats recently following the morning masses.

    February 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • SH Boy Scout Troop 321.jpg Sacred Heart's Boy Scout Troop honored

    Members of Boy Scout Troop 321 from Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church were honored during Mass on Scout Sunday recently in Cullman. The troop has been supported by the Church since it's inception in the early 1950s and takes part

    February 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • Methodists in crisis over gay marriage, church law

    The dispute among United Methodists over recognition of same-sex couples has lapsed into a doctrinal donnybrook, pitting clergy who are presiding at gay weddings in defiance of church law against proponents of traditional marriage who are trying to stop them.

    February 6, 2014

  • St. B. March for Life.jpg St. Bernard students attend March for Life

    St. Bernard students joined with the Diocese of Birmingham and 400,000 other pro-life supporters in Washington DC for the annual March for Life during the last week of January, capturing the attention of media mongrel CNN.
     

    February 5, 2014 1 Photo

  • computer.jpg Pope sees Internet as 'gift from God'

    Mark Pope Francis down as an Internet optimist. He declared his unambiguous support for the Web as a tool that brings humanity closer together in a papal statement Thursday.

    January 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • White Jesus The race of Jesus: Unknown, yet powerful

    For two thousand years, he has been worshipped and adored. Multitudes look to him each day. And yet nobody really knows the face of Jesus.

    December 27, 2013 1 Photo

  • SH Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration.jpg Sacred Heart Church's Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration

    Hispanic members of Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Cullman enter church dressed in ceremonial garments of their native homeland and carrying mosaics of their patroness, Our Lady of Guadalupe.

    December 18, 2013 1 Photo

  • SH Christmas program.jpg Huntsville Collegium Musicum Christmas Program at Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church

    Eight members of The Huntsville Collegium Musicum presented an acapella concert at Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church recently featuring a musical depiction of the Christmas story. Using music dating back to 1420, the program featured works by Cristobal Morales, Jean Mouton, Gustav Holst and Johann Walther as well as the words of American poet Joshua Smith from the eighteenth century.   

    December 18, 2013 1 Photo

  • OCC shoeboxes.jpg Operation Christmas Child Shoebox Ministry

    Another record has been broken by local contributors of gift filled shoeboxes to the Operation Christmas Child Shoebox Ministry Project. The OCC Collection Center for Cullman County at Christ Covenant Presbyterian Church collected 6,352 shoeboxes, breaking the previous record of 5,335 shoeboxes collected last year.
     

    December 10, 2013 1 Photo

  • Christ Lutheran Church and its tornado cross.jpg Processional cross returned to Christ Lutheran Church

    When the tornado tore through Cullman April 27, 2011, one of the many buildings destroyed was Christ Lutheran Church. Stunned residents throughout the city came out of shelters moments after the tornado hit and were awed by the destruction.
     

    December 10, 2013 1 Photo