New Pope tainted by close association with a murderous regime
(Gaither Stewart in Rome) On March 13, 2013, the Argentinean, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the 76-year old Jesuit, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, was quickly elected the 266th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Cardinal Bergoglio chose the papal name of Francis, Francesco in Italian, Francisco in Spanish, the first time any pope has dared use the name of Italy’s beloved hippy saint from Assisi, who dressed in rags, spoke with birds, defended the poor and opposed all pomp and show in his religious practice.
Bergoglio, the son of an Italian immigrant from Piemonte in north Italy, was the second most voted candidate for the papacy in 2005 which elected the German Benedict XVI who was recently forced to resign—the first resignation of a pope in five centuries—by a combination of moral and financial scandals and power struggles in the Holy See.
Both Italians and Americans were disappointed at the outcome because their candidates were favored before and during the conclave of cardinals in the Sistine Chapel. While the voting was still going on, the Italian Bishops Conference even committed the faux pas of sending a message of congratulations to their candidate, Italy’s powerful Cardinal Scola,
In any case, as the cardinals from all points of the globe met to elect the new leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Roman Catholics, change in the Church was in the air. European Catholics expected the election of a European, fearful of further decline of the Eurocentrism of the Church so linked to Europe and at a time when Europe itself counts less and less in the world.
Likewise, Italians hoped for an Italian pope at a time when political Italy is shattered and split into irreconcilable parties and movements, all lacking clear ideas for the future, when the country is ungovernable and since national elections three weeks ago has not even been able to form a new government.
Observers last evening were struck by the simplicity of the new pope’s first words when he appeared dressed without adornment on the small Vatican balcony where Roman popes regularly address the faithful. His first words were: Buona sera! Good evening. During his few words to the huge crowd who had waited for hours in a pouring rain on St. Peter’s Square for the outcome of the election and the name of their new pope, he never referred to himself as Pope but as the Bishop of Rome. He asked the faithful to pray for him. Vatican specialists and theologians agree that his simplicity signals an authentic change of guard in the Roman Church so fixed in its traditional pomp and ritual.
Pope Francis however has an uphill battle awaiting him. The powerful Roman Curia, that is, the Holy See, is as allergic to glasnost and simplicity as it is to any change or infringements on their power. Whether the cynical Curia will want to try to blackmail and call to order the new pope because of his silence during the Argentine military dictatorship, 1976-83, remains to be seen.
It depends on Pope Francis himself. He must quickly clarify that now deafening silence. In 2005, a human rights lawyer filed charges against Bergoglio, accusing him of conspiring with the junta to kidnap two Jesuit priests working in the slums of Buenos Aires, both of whom were then desaparecido as were some 30,000 people.
Cardinal Bergoglio had headed the Society of Jesus (the Jesuit Order) in Argentina in 1976 and had asked the two priests to leave their pastoral work following conflict within the Society over how to respond to the new dictatorship, with some Jesuits advocating its overthrow.
This charge against Bergoglio was launched during a period of national debate in Argentina over the meaning of the dictatorship. The Argentine Right still defines the events of the 1970s and 80s as a civil war. The Left denies this flatly. There was a war in that period. Not a civil war however but the Guerra Sucia, the “dirty war”, which was part of Operation Condor organized by the extreme Right, the Argentine secret police, SIDE, and the CIA to wipe out “subversion”. Subversion meant the opposition that favored a Socialist government in Argentina. The “dirty war” referred to state terrorism against the Left made up of the left wing of the Peronist movement, Montoneros and the Peoples Revolutionary Army which. though forced to go underground, was the only opposition.
Public figures who remained silent or cooperated with the junta—persons like Bergoglio and also the great writer, Jorge Borges—were in one way or another compromised. As in post-WWII Germany, many people claimed they did not know what was happening. But the majority of the desaparecidos were from Buenos Aires; they all had families and friends. How could public figures who know everything happening in Buenos Aires not know? The Roman Curia is well aware of those charges against Pope Francis.
One last curiosity: some Romans, always superstitious, are today speaking of the arrival of the long prophesied Black Pope or Papa Nero, as the General of the Society of Jesus is called because of the black cassock he wears. According to the prophecies the Black Pope will be the last Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. The Black Pope is the anti-pope who will bring about the end of the Church, the destruction of Rome, and the end of the world.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gaither Stewart is The Greanville Post’s European correspondent, based in Rome. The latest volume of his Europe Trilogy, Time of Exile, is scheduled for publication later this year by Punto Press. This volume follows The Trojan Horse and Lily Pad Roll, also published by Punto Press. A master of the espionage thriller, Stewart has been called the new John le Carré.