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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Francis and the “Dirty War” (UPDATED)

A whole lot of discussion happening today over Argentina’s “Dirty War” and the level of involvement that Bishop Bergoglio/Pope Francis had in resisting and/or collaborating with it. Into the midst of this debate comes an extraordinary article at the New Republic by Sam Ferguson, a visiting fellow at the Schell Center for International Human Rights at Yale Law School and a former Fulbright Scholar. Alone among the reports I have seen, Ferguson has gained access to the transcript of Bergoglio’s testimony “as a witness in the criminal trial of eighteen officers who had worked at the notorious Naval Mechanics School, where the country's military junta detained political prisoners—including a pair of Jesuit priests who'd been kidnapped shortly after the regime took power in a 1976 coup.”

Ferguson’s summary of Bergoglio’s testimony is an important contribution to the story. He includes a quote from Argentine Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel, who was jailed and tortured by the Argentine dictatorship. Esquivil says Bergoglio "was not an accomplice of the dictatorship. … There were bishops who were accomplices of the Argentine dictatorship, but not Bergoglio."  Others are not so sure. Luis Zamora, the human rights lawyer who questioned Bergoglio during his four hour testimony, believes Bergoglio “’completely failed’ in his explanation of the past. He added that those who say Bergoglio was an insignificant figure in the Church at the time are mistaken, as evidenced by his ability to arrange meetings with…the country's two most powerful military men.”

These issues are not simple to understand or to judge. As Eduardo Penalver said in a post at Commonweal: “we can probably look forward to a steady stream of articles on this issue in the coming weeks and months.” Hopefully they will be as informed and judicious as Ferguson’s essay.

An a significant development to the story one of the two Jesuit priests who'd been kidnapped, Rev. Francisco Jalics, has spoken for the first time publicly about the incident and in a way that supports Bergoglio's testimony. From the Associated Press' moving story:


A Jesuit priest whose kidnapping by the Argentine military junta decades ago led to strong criticism of the newly elected pope said Friday that he and the pontiff have reconciled.
The Rev. Francisco Jalics, who now lives in a monastery in southern Germany, said in a statement that he had talked with the Rev. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who was named Pope Francis on Wednesday, long after the 1976 kidnapping of himself and fellow slum priest Orlando Yorio.
Bergoglio has said he told the priests to give up their slum work for their own safety, and they refused. Yorio, who is now dead, later accused Bergoglio of effectively delivering them to the death squads by declining to publicly endorse their work.
"It was only years later that we had the opportunity to talk with Father Bergoglio ... to discuss the events," Jalics said Friday in his first known comments about the kidnapping, which occurred when the new pope was the leader of Argentina's Jesuits.
"Following that, we celebrated Mass publicly together and hugged solemnly. I am reconciled to the events and consider the matter to be closed," he said...
Jalics, in his mid-80s, is currently out of Germany and could not be reached for comment beyond the statement. But Thomas Busch, a spokesman for the Jesuits in Munich, said the conversation between Jalics and Bergoglio took place in the year 2000.
In his statement, which was posted on the German Jesuits' website, Jalics did not elaborate on what the two talked about regarding the kidnapping.
"I cannot comment on the role of Father Bergoglio in these events," he said.
But he added: "I wish Pope Francis God's rich blessings for his office."

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/03/15/3287440/priest-kidnapped-by-junta-reconciled.html#storylink=cpy#storylink=cpy

Commonweal has published a very helpful summary of the story of the two priests, offering needed context and an informed judgment in Bergoglio's favor. Here is key excerpt:

The two Jesuits were doing more than just visiting—they were involved in activities that, from the Junta’s point of view, were clearly subversive. Bergoglio says he warned them that they were risking arrest, if not worse, and urged them to be more prudent. According to an AP report, “Bergoglio has said he told the priests to give up their slum work for their own safety, and they refused.” And they were kidnapped—or, if you prefer, extrajudicially arrested.
What now seems clear is that both men were freed after Bergoglio took measures to protect them. On one occasion he persuaded Videla’s personal chaplain to call in sick so Bergoglio could say Mass in the president’s home, where he pleaded for the two priests, most likely saving their lives.
It’s known as well that Bergoglio regularly hid people on church property and once gave his personal ID to a man with similar features, allowing him to slip across the border.
Verbitsky’s telling seems to imagine some great power held by the Jesuits in that country. What has been too little noted in all the furor since Bergoglio’s election as pope is the relative impotence of the religious communities in Argentina during the dirty war, as compared with the vastly superior influence of the country’s ultra-conservative bishops. Mignone’s book names no fewer than twenty-five bishops and two cardinals whom he considers indifferent, if not hostile, to concerns for human rights. There are even bishops he terms "integrist." The "good" bishops he numbers at seven or eight. In that climate, the relatively young Jesuit provincial had his work cut out for him.
And although Mignone doesn’t say so, Bergoglio, Pellegrini, Angelleli and other churchmen were fortunate to have as papal nuncio Archbishop Pio Laghi (1974-80), later nuncio to the United States. It was to Laghi’s office, not to that of the archbishop or of the bishops’ conference, that loved ones of the disappeared turned for information and help. (See “Tennis with Tyrants,” Commonweal, May 20, 2011.)
Bergoglio’s essential responsibility as provincial of the Jesuits, given the dramatic context of a murderous regime and bands of hardly nonviolent “subversives,” was to protect his men. When some of them courted confrontation with the regime, we have every reason to believe he did what he could to rein them in. With Jalics and Yorio he tried, failed, but finally succeeded in saving them. 

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/03/15/3287440/priest-kidnapped-by-junta-reconciled.html#storylink=cpy#storylink=cpy

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