Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Holy Sí: A Breath Of Fresh Air or More Of The Same?

In unadorned white robes, the first pope from the Americas stepped foot today on a balcony overlooking St. Peter's square and set a tone of simplicity and humility in a church desperate to move past the tarnished era of sex abuse scandals and internal Vatican upheavals.  Jorge Mario Bergoglio-- the 76-year-old archbishop of Buenos Aries, the first pope from Latin America and the first from the Jesuit order – bowed to the crowd and asked for their blessing in a hint of the austere style he cultivated while modernizing the Argentina's conservative Catholic church.

The Argentine successor to the quitter-pope

In taking the name Francis, he drew connections to the 13th century St. Francis of Assisi, who saw his calling as trying to rebuild the church in a time of turmoil.  Pope Francis I (the son of middle-class Italian immigrants) is known as a humble man who denied himself the luxuries that previous Buenos Aires cardinals enjoyed. He came close to becoming pope nearly eight years ago, reportedly garnering the second-most number of votes after several rounds of voting before bowing out to eventual winner Pope Benedict XVI.

Bergoglio often rides the public bus to work, cooks his own meals and regularly visits the slums that ring Argentina's capital. He considers social outreach, rather than doctrinal battles, to be the essential business of the church.  Last year, he famously accused fellow church leaders of hypocrisy, saying "In our ecclesiastical region there are priests who don't baptize the children of single mothers because they weren't conceived in the sanctity of marriage.  These are today's hypocrites. Those who clericalize the Church. Those who separate the people of God from salvation. And this poor girl who, rather than returning the child to sender, had the courage to carry it into the world, must wander from parish to parish so that it's baptized!"

At the same time however, Bergoglio/Francis I has towed the Catholic party line, staunchly opposing gay marriage, contraception, and abortion.  He continues to raise the ire of many Argentines, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, who believe the church failed to openly confront the country's dictatorial regime in the 1970s over its kidnapping and killing thousands of people as it sought to eliminate "subversive elements" in Argentine society.

Many have even accused Bergoglio himself of being more concerned about the church's image than about aiding the many human rights investigations initiated under Presidents Nestor and Cristina Kirchner.  Bergoglio twice invoked his right under Argentine law to refuse to testify in open court, and when he eventually did testify in 2010, his answers were evasive, according to human rights attorney Myriam Bregman.

At least two other cases have directly involved Bergoglio, however. One case involved the torture of two of his Jesuit priests – Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics – who were kidnapped in 1976 from the slums where they advocated liberation theology. Yorio accused Bergoglio of effectively handing them over to the death squads by declining to tell the regime that he endorsed their work.  Bregman claims that  Bergoglio's own statements prove church officials knew from early on that the government junta in the late 70's  was torturing and killing its citizens, and yet publicly endorsed the dictators. "The dictatorship could not have operated this way without this key support," she said.

In a second case, Bergoglio has also been accused of turning his back on a family that lost five relatives to state terror, including a young woman who was 5-months' pregnant before she was kidnapped and killed in 1977.  At the time of the kidnapping, the De la Cuadra family appealed to the leader of the Jesuits in Rome, who, in turn, urged Bergoglio to help the family.  Bergoglio then assigned a monsignor to the case. Months passed before the monsignor came back with a written correspondence from a high-ranking military official.  The letter revealed that the woman had given birth in captivity to a girl who was given to a family "too important" for the adoption to be reversed.  In spite of this well-documented evidence, Bergoglio continued to claim (as recently as 2010)  that he had no knowledge of any stolen babies until well after the dictatorship was over.

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