Some of the Skinny on New Pope Francis
The new Pope Francis is 76 years old. He is the former cardinal of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Jorge Mario Bergoglio and now spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, 40% of whom live in Latin America.
He appeared on Wednesday on the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, an hour after the white smoke appeared from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel.
According to Patrick O'Connor of wsws:
The elevation of “Pope Francis” has received breathless media coverage and been hailed by heads of government around the world. The Church and its allies in ruling circles internationally are consciously using the occasion to help ensure the survival of Roman Catholicism, following the eruption of numerous corruption, sexual abuse, and related scandals.
Bergoglio, O'Connor goes on to explain, is the first non-European pope in 1,200 years. He is also the first pope from the Jesuit order.
While Bergoglio previously was a member of different Vatican departments, he never previously worked within the Vatican, in contrast to Ratzinger, who had spent the bulk of his career within the Church’s apparatus in Rome. With the nomination of Pope Francis, the Church’s senior cardinals are apparently hoping that an “outsider” can reorganise the institution amid reports of murky financial arrangements and money laundering, and factional rifts revealed in the so-called “Vatileaks” affair, including groups of senior clergy being blackmailed for homosexual activities.
Ratzinger’s resignation, it is now clear, was prompted by these scandals. While “health reasons” was the stated reason, the Church has now elected a new 76-year-old pope who is just two years younger than Ratzinger was when he became pope in 2005, and who only has one lung, with the other removed when he was a teenager.
O'Connor reveals that the number of Catholics has declined rapidly in Europe. There are fewer and fewer young priests to guide the proverbial Catholic flock and priests are being imported from Asia, Africa and America.
In Bergoglio’s Argentina, according to O'Connor, fewer than 10% attend weekly mass.
O'Connor goes on to explain that President Obama hailed the new choice of Pope as a “champion of the poor and the most vulnerable among us”, adding that “as the first pope from the Americas, his selection also speaks to the strength and vitality of a region that is increasingly shaping our world”.
The mainstream media spent incredible amounts of time focused on the Vatican’s “medieval” election processes. Now it is full of anecdotes about the humility and capacity for empathy of the new pope. He apparently took public transportation, lived in an apartment and cooked his own meals. Such an image encourages optimism. Can the sensibility he seems to exhibit somehow impact the plight of poverty of so very many across the globe?
There are also troubling clouds in Bergoglio’s history according to Patrick O'Connor:
The US and international media conglomerates have largely ignored the serious questions that have been raised in Argentina about Bergoglio’s role within the Church during the military’s rule between 1976 and 1983. During this time an estimated 30,000 left-wing opponents of the junta were “disappeared” in a US-backed “dirty war”. The Argentinian Catholic Church enjoyed intimate relations with the military, both in the lead up to its seizure of power and under the junta.
Bergoglio was ordained in 1969, and served as the Jesuit Provincial (elected leader of the order) for Argentina between 1973 and 1979, before becoming rector of the Philosophical and Theological Faculty of San Miguel between 1980 and 1986. In the 1990s he began to be promoted up the Church hierarchy by Pope John Paul II.
Under the junta rule, Bergoglio worked to enforce within his Jesuit order the Vatican’s edicts against “liberation theology”. This movement had been founded by reformist elements within the Latin American church in the 1960s, seeking to focus on the plight of the poor as a means of maintaining the Church’s position amid a political radicalisation of the working class across the continent.
In 1976, Bergoglio demanded that two Jesuit priests—Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics—cease preaching liberation theology and leave the slums where they were working. After they refused, Bergoglio had them removed from the order. The two men were subsequently kidnapped and tortured by the military. According to Associated Press: “Yorio accused Bergoglio of effectively handing them over to the death squads by declining to tell the regime that he endorsed their work.”
Argentinian journalist Horacio Verbitsky wrote a book in 2005 covering the affair, El Silencio: de Paulo VI a Bergoglio: las relaciones secretas de la Iglesia con la ESMA. “He put the safety of the [Jesuit] Society of Jesus above the safety of the priests,” Verbitsky alleged.
The case was brought before the Argentinian courts by a human rights lawyer in 2005, but remains unresolved. Bergoglio has denied the allegations, accusing Verbitsky of “slander”. He maintains that he intervened privately with the junta on behalf of the two priests after their detention, and secured their release.
Bergoglio was called to testify in the case after a Catholic lay worker, María Elena Funes, who was imprisoned at the infamous ESMA (navy mechanics) torture center, testified in relation to the disappearance of the French nuns Alice Domon and Leonie Duquet and said that the two priests had been abducted by the military after Bergoglio took away their protection.
Luis Zamora, the former national deputy and lawyer in the case, described Bergoglio’s testimony as “reticent,” adding, “When someone is reticent, they are lying, they are hiding part of the truth.”
In another episode, Bergoglio has been accused of ignoring the pleas for help from a family that lost five of its members to the junta, including a young woman who was five months pregnant before she was kidnapped and killed in 1977. Bergoglio allegedly assigned a junior colleague to the case, who was subsequently given a note from a colonel explaining that the young woman had given birth while in detention and that the baby had been given to an “important” family. Despite his involvement in this case, Bergoglio testified in 2010 that he did not know about stolen babies until after the fall of the dictatorship.
O'Connor goes on to assert that after the military rule of Argentina, Bergoglio used his influence to shield criminals within the armed forces. In 2006 he endorsed a public protest of military and right wing forces who demanded immunity from prosecution for crimes committed by the junta.
In 2012, responding to growing disgust among ordinary Argentineans, Bergoglio issued a statement on behalf of the country’s bishops formally apologising for the Church’s “failures” during the “dirty war”—while at the same time placing equal blame for the violence on the military dictatorship and its left-wing opponents.
“History condemns him,” Reuters reported Fortunato Mallimacci, the former dean of social sciences at the Universidad de Buenos Aires, as saying. “It shows him to be opposed to all innovation in the church and above all, during the dictatorship, it shows he was very cosy with the military.”
Clearly the new Pope Francis comes not without questionable political baggage. None of this has made it, predictably, into the mainstream American media. The NewsHour Wednesday night emphasized a new pope who appeared to embrace the economic plight of the common man but was a traditionalist in terms of Catholic orthodoxy. No mention of any of the historical issues O'Connor brings up in such detail.
Also, according to David Edwards the new Pope Francis has spoken out forcefully against laws granting LGBT marriage and adoption rights. In spite of Bergoglio’s strong stance against, Argentina’s Senate recently granted marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples, becoming the first Latin American country to do so.
In a statement on Wednesday, Catholics for Choice President Jon O’Brien welcomed the new pope but had low expectations for change in the Catholic Church:
“We do not expect very many changes, but sincerely hope that the culture will change to better reflect the needs of the church and of Catholics,” O’Brien explained. “As Cardinal Bergoglio, he was outspoken against the recent liberalization of Argentinian laws on abortion, stating flatly that ‘abortion is never a solution.’ But this is no surprise, as he and his fellow electors were all appointed by his two conservative predecessors, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II.”
“We call on Pope Francis to recognize that he is now the head of a very diverse church, one that includes Catholics who use contraception, who have or provide abortions, who seek fertility treatments, who engage in sexual relationships outside of marriage or with people of the same sex, as well as people who are living with HIV & AIDS. These Catholics are absolute traditionalists in that they live according to their consciences and by virtue of their faith every day. A leader of our church who affirms rather than denies the lived wisdom of the faithful would be well within the Catholic tradition as well.”
It will be interesting to watch more of the branding of the new pope by the US media. It will be interesting to follow his upcoming choices and communications.
Can he offer genuine leadership in these troubled times? Will the scandals that haunt his past be verified or proven undeserved? Or neither. Will he prove useful to the forces of the global ruling class elite and military matrix, undermining and oppressing further the global family of men, women and children in these dark spiritual times or will he use his influence for humanitarianism?