It was expected that there would be an effort question the reputation of Pope Francis in some of the mass media that have supported the policies of abortion, birth control and homosexual marriage. They usually make no mention of then Cardinal Bergoglio's outspoken criticisms of President Cristina Fernandez when she imposed homosexual marriage, homosexual adoption, and free contraceptives for all in Argentina. He pointed out how these policies discriminate against children and the poor. President Fernandez used terms like “medieval” and “inquisition” in reference to him. The latter is rather ironic since some of her supporters in the media tend to blame Catholicism for the “dirty war.”
The fog of war brings in many allegations against those who sought to avoid the bloodshed that was caused by both sides. Newspapers often give credence to reports by someone who was a leftist guerrilla during the conflict in Agentina, Horacio Verbitsky. References are made to statements of two Jesuits who were arrested by the military junta; statements made by their relatives and others who claim that then Fr. Bergoglio did not support the two Jesuit priests in their living among the poor. It will take time to sort all these allegations out in the light of the truth. But we do have a statement by one of the Jesuits that he published on the German Jesuit website. It contradicts some of the allegations, even some attributed to him earlier in the 1990s.
I got to know a few priests, Franciscans, Jesuits, and Missionaries of Charity who lived with the poor in the slums in Argentina and other Latin American countries. Many are heroic, but they are also critical of the terror tactics used by guerilla movements aimed at getting political power. They would tell me how it broke their hearts to see the poor used as cannon fodder by both dictators and guerillas to gain power. In my own visits to the slums in Mexico I could see how the poor wanted not only material subsistence but also education for their children.
One of the two Jesuits, whom some news reports identify as having been imprisoned by the dictatorship during the 1970s, issued a statement on the German Jesuit website. From this “Erklärung” or “Clarification”, it is quite clear, despite poor reports in the Washington Post, New York Times, and AP, the following are stated as facts:
1. Both Fr. Yorio and Fr. Jalics received permission in 1974 from the local Archbishop Aramburu and Fr. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the provincial of the Jesuits, to work together in the slums or “Favela” of Buenos Aires. While living there they also continued teaching at the university. They saw the importance of education for the poor.
2. When the civil war situation escalated with the military junta within several years many thousands of human beings were killed; these victims included both leftist guerillas as well as innocent civilians. Neither Fr. Jalic nor Fr. Yorio had any contact with the leftist guerillas while living in the slums. But then misinformation spread throughout the church that they did have such contacts.
3. During this time the two Jesuits lost contact with one lay-coworker when he joined the leftist guerillas. Nine months later this lay co-worker was arrested by the Junta and during interrogation said falsely that he had kept in contact with the Jesuits. So they were arrested on this allegation.
4. After a five day interrogation the officier conducting it said: “Fathers, you both have no fault. I shall take care that you are returned to the slum.” Despite this assurance, for some unknown reason the two were kept for five months long blindfolded and chained in prison. Fr. Jalics cannot say what roll Fr. Bergoglio played in these events.
5. After their release Fr. Jalics states he immediately left Argentina. Years later “we” (by stating “we” I presume Fr. Jalics means he and Fr. Yorio) had occasion to meet with Fr. Bergoglio who had become Archbishop of Buenos Aires. They spoke and then celebrated together a public Mass and joyfully embraced each other. So they (“we”) were reconciled and Fr. Jalics wishes Pope Francis God’s blessing in his papacy.
Fr. Jalics and Fr. Yorio did not know, indeed could not have known, that then Fr. Bergoglio was able to intercede for his two Jesuit brothers with the head of Junta to get them released. Note also the false allegations that they had not had his permission to work in the slums. When the deceased Fr. Yorio is quoted as saying that then Fr. Bergoglio may have been complicit in their five month detention, it was before he was able to learn about what in fact his provincial had done.
What Bergoglio was doing might be similar to what Karol Wojtyla did in Poland under Nazism and Communism: work behind the scenes to support the opposition without identifying totally with them. That is why, when Pope and visiting Guatemala, John Paul II criticized the Jesuits who had become Sandinista party members. The people needed to see in the Church an institution that supported their freedom without identifying with any party given the all too common tendency to engage in unjust violence against the innocent and identify the transpolitical Kingdom of God with this worldly politics. Thus Fr. Bergoglio would publicly decry the violence of the Junta and that of the guerillas. In this he was also following the teaching of then Cardinal Ratzinger when he as head of the Congergation of the Doctrine of Faith criticized those adherents of liberation theology that identified the Gospel with gaining political power through identification with Marxist guerilla forces.
The mothers of the disappeared are understandably crying out for justice. In such situations, as well the victims of clerical abuse, there will be some who blame the Church, and mass media will tend to give them a platform. Most of the relatives of the many thousands of victims – including priests and nuns – do not blame Fr. Bergoglio. This is evident in the ease with which he lived among the poor, and travels in public without fear. Finally, as Archbishop he encouraged his fellow Argentinian bishops to express repentance for not having been more effective in protecting the faithful in the 1970s.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.