Posts Tagged ‘Argentine Human Rights Violations’

The new Pope and the Argentine military junta

March 14, 2013

Many Latin American prelates, most famously Dom Helder Camaro of Brazil and the martyred Archbishop Oscar Romaro of El Salvador, spoke out in the 1970s and 1980s against military dictatorships, death squads and torture.  The new Pope Francis was not one of them.

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio

[Jorge Mario] Bergoglio was the head of the Jesuits in Argentina during the military dictatorship of 1976-1983, during which the military murdered upwards of 30,000 people (as well as kidnapping hundreds of children whose parents the regime had tortured and murdered). Unlike Catholic officials in neighboring Chile and Brazil, where priests, bishops, and even cardinals spoke out against human rights abuses and defended victims of abuses, in Argentina, the Catholic Church was openly complicit in the military regime’s repression.

Bergoglio was not exempt from this involvement: military officers have testified that Bergoglio helped the Argentine military regime hide political prisoners when human rights activists visited the country.  And Bergoglio himself had to testify regarding the kidnapping of two priests who he stripped of their religious licenses shortly before they were kidnapped and tortured.

This isn’t just a case of Bergoglio being a member of an institution that supported a brutal regime; it’s a case of Bergoglio himself having ties, direct and indirect, to that very regime.  For those who hoped for a Pope who might represent a more welcoming and open path for the Catholic Church, the selection of Bergoglio has to be a let-down.

via Americas South and North.

In November 2005, Cardinal Bergoglio was elected head of the Argentine Conference of Bishops for a three-year term, which was renewed in 2008.  At the time he was chosen, the Argentine church was dealing with a notorious political scandal, that of the Rev. Christian von Wernich, a former chaplain of the Buenos Aires police who had been accused of aiding in the questioning, torture and death of political prisoners.

The church authorities had spirited Father von Wernich out of the country and placed him in a parish in Chile under a false name, but he was eventually brought back to Argentina and put on trial. In 2007, he was found guilty on seven counts of complicity in homicide, more than 40 counts of kidnapping and more than 30 of torture, and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Father von Wernich was allowed to continue to celebrate Mass in prison, and in 2010 a church official said that “at the appropriate time, von Wernich’s situation will have to be resolved in accordance with canonical law.” But Cardinal Bergoglio never issued a formal apology on behalf of the church, or commented directly on the case, and during his tenure the bishops’ conference was similarly silent.


I never was bothered by the fact Pope Benedict XVI was a member of the Hitler Youth as a teenager.  He was a boy and too young to know better, he never personally participated in Nazi atrocities and he never supported or showed sympathy for Naziism as an adult.  Cardinal Bergoglio was an adult when he supported the fascist Argentine military junta, and, so far as I know, he never expressed regrets.  (If I am wrong on this point, I would be grateful for better information).

[Note added 3/16/13.  Argentina’s bishops in October 2012 issued a collective apology for failing to protect their flock during the dictatorship.]

The Papacy is important to everyone and not just Catholics.  The Roman Catholic Church is not only the world’s largest religious communion, it is the world’s largest membership organization—period.  There are more than a billion Catholics in the world.   A majority of the world’s Christians are Catholics.  What the Pope does, and what the Catholic Church does, are hugely important to the world, for good and bad.

Now it may be that as Pope, Pope Francis will be able to put his past history behind him.  Maybe he will support Catholic social teaching at its best, rather than Catholic authoritarianism at its worst.  I hope so.  It’s possible.  Such a change of heart wouldn’t be unprecedented.  But I wouldn’t bet on it.