In the 1970s, Father Jorge Bergoglio faced a moment of truth: Would he stand up to Argentina’s military neo-Nazis “disappearing” thousands including priests, or keep his mouth shut and his career on track? Like many other Church leaders, Pope Francis took the safe route, Robert Parry reports.
The election of Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as Pope Francis brings back into focus the troubling role of the Catholic hierarchy in blessing much of the brutal repression that swept Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s, killing and torturing tens of thousands of people including priests and nuns accused of sympathizing with leftists.
The Vatican’s fiercely defensive reaction to the reemergence of these questions as they relate to the new Pope also is reminiscent of the pattern of deceptive denials that became another hallmark of that era when propaganda was viewed as an integral part of the “anticommunist” struggles, which were often supported financially and militarily by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Image: Pope John Paul II reprimanding Father Ernesto Cardenal at Managua Airport for Cardenal’s support of “liberation theology” and his work with the Sandinista government.
It appears that Bergoglio, who was head of the Jesuit order in Buenos Aires during Argentina’s grim “dirty war,” mostly tended to his bureaucratic rise within the Church as Argentine security forces “disappeared” some 30,000 people for torture and murder from 1976 to 1983, including 150 Catholic priests suspected of believing in “liberation theology.”
Much as Pope Pius XII didn’t directly challenge the Nazis during the Holocaust, Father Bergoglio avoided any direct confrontation with the neo-Nazis who were terrorizing Argentina. Pope Francis’s defenders today, like apologists for Pope Pius, claim he did intervene quietly to save some individuals. But no one asserts that Bergoglio stood up publicly against the “anticommunist” terror, as some other Church leaders did in Latin America, most notably El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Romero who then became a victim of right-wing assassins in 1980.
Indeed, the predominant role of the Church hierarchy — from the Vatican to the bishops in the individual countries — was to give political cover to the slaughter and to offer little protection to the priests and nuns who advocated “liberation theology,” i.e. the belief that Jesus did not just favor charity to the poor but wanted a just society that shared wealth and power with the poor.