Bloody Francis?



Not bloody likely. But...

For many of us unfamiliar with the past of Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio's (now Pope Francis), questions about his relationship with Argentina's brutal former military dictatorship are just beginning to come to the surface.

The 1970s in Argentina was the time of the "Dirty War," a time of bloody political turmoil in which leftists battled the military for control of the country. The casualties were in the range of 30,000, mostly civilian, who often were "disappeared" -- whisked away, never to be heard from again. Legitimate rebels fighters were undoubtedly among the ranks of the lost. But so too were children and other non-combatants, caught up in the violence and paranoia of the time.

The question, of course, is what Cardinal Bergolgio was doing during this time of bitterness. Was he, as some on the left say, complicit in some of the disappearances -- or who withdrew his opposition? Bergogolio led the Jesuit order in Argentina at the time. He was against the use of violence by more radical members of the order. But did he, as some charge, assist in the capture, torture and murder of two of his brother priests?

There is evidence that he worked to help some victims of the roundups. From today's New York Times:
After the church had denied for years any involvement with the dictatorship, [Beroglio]testified in 2010 that he had met secretly with Gen. Jorge Videla, the former head of the military junta, and Adm. Emilio Massera, the commander of the navy, to ask for the release of two kidnapped priests. The following year, prosecutors called him to the witness stand to testify on the military junta’s systematic kidnapping of children, a subject he was also accused of knowing about but failing to prevent.
In a long interview published by an Argentine newspaper in 2010, Francis — then still a cardinal — said that he had helped hide people being sought for arrest or disappearance by the military because of their political views, had helped others leave Argentina and had lobbied the country’s military rulers directly for the release and protection of others. 
As with questions surrounding Pope Pius XII's efforts against Nazism during World War II, questions about the former Cardinal's complicity in mass murder and political repression are difficult to answer. They answers are found at the murky nexus of morality, church sympathy for authority, its instinct toward self-protection, its desire to protect the poor and oppressed and the church's real or imaged political clout. What should/can the Church do when a military government is involved in what could be described by authorities as a fight to protect the state from rebels? Is it enough merely to tend to the wounded and dying? Are homilies promoting peace enough to achieve moral respectability? Is open opposition to violence worth the expected backlash and the spilling of more innocent blood?

When I put myself in the Cardinal's position, I am not sure what I would do. I would try to find a means to encourage the largest amount of peace and justice, I suppose. But to expect a cardinal to establish the millenium with a word is naive.

For now, I am giving Pope Francis the benefit of the doubt. The worst charges against him seem to be in the realm of "he didn't do enough." But his demeanor doesn't suggest a cold-blooded collaborator with violent men or a betrayer of priests. Still, it is worth reviewing the Church's ability to coexist, however uneasily, in the midst of deadly political violence, wihout raising its voice effectively in protest. If the church sides too strongly with politics and social change, it risks losing its moral authority. But if its preoccupation is with purely spiritual matters, it risks censure for ignoring the day-to-day realities of its flock.

Damned if you do; damned if you don't.