Voices from Russia

Thursday, 14 March 2013

The First Pope from Argentina: Jesuit, Political Adversary, and San Lorenzo FC Supporter

00 Pope Francisco Bergoglio. 14.03.13


Both secular and Catholic observers in Argentina note that the distinguishing characteristics of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who became on Wednesday the first head of the Roman Catholic Church from South America, are exceptional modesty and consistency in his convictions. At the same time, according to most respondents, in the church itself and in the larger society, the now-former archbishop of Buenos Aires has an unquestioned and well-deserved reputation. In the opinion of those closest to Bergoglio in both church and secular circles, he’s terse in mannerism, but he’s always ready to lend a hand; he’s a stranger to pomp and ostentation of any sort, but he’s austere personally. His associates report that his day begins at 04.30 in the morning, and he usually doesn’t rest from work until 21.00 in the evening. When he became a cardinal became a cardinal, Bergoglio didn’t not order new clothes; instead, he ordered that the tailors alter the ones left over from his predecessor. His intimates note that he cooks his own meals. Before the conclave at which Bergoglio became Pope Francisco, he lived in a small room on the third floor of a building adjacent to the Catedral Metropolitana de Buenos Aires.

White Smoke and Jubilation of Believers… The Election of a New Pope of Rome in the Vatican

Bergoglio loves the works of Argentine writers Jorge Luis Borges and Leopoldo Marechal, and Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky. He’s a passionate opera buff, he’s a die-hard football fan, being a backer of Club Atlético San Lorenzo de Almagro (FC San Lorenzo). Symbolism is very important for him… he revived the tradition according to which at the end of some services, the priests lay their hands on the heads of the congregants who come forward. Dislike of publicity didn’t prevent Bergoglio from creating a very effective press service; he took care to appoint clerics with expertise in dealing with the media to head it. At his direct order, the doors of his cathedral were always open, not only for services, but also for general charitable activities. Bergoglio shows humility and an openness to dialogue combined with a willingness to fight uncompromisingly for positions that he deems important to the church. Thus, over the years, he’s had repeated and very strong clashes with the government; at times, he’s given very explicit opposition to initiatives emanating from the Casa Rosada.

A “Moderate”

Bergoglio was born 17 December 1936 in Buenos Aires, into a humble Italian working-class immigrant family (his father was a railwayman). As a teenager, he lost his right lung to a severe case of pneumonia. Before the start of his church career, he graduated from University of Buenos Aires with a master’s degree in chemistry, or, another source said that he studied to be a chemical technician at a technical institute. He decided to become a priest when he was 21-years-old, after. Later, he studied philosophy, then, he went to seminary, becoming a priest in 1969. For six years, he headed the Argentine Jesuits.

More on the Jesuit Order >>

Francisco, the Pope of Rome

During the dictatorship of 1976-83, Bergoglio tried to defend the Jesuit order via a policy of refusing to get involved in politics. In 1986, in Germany, he defended his doctoral thesis, after which he returned to Argentina to resume his pastoral activity. In May 1992, Pope John Paul II Wojtyła appointed Bergoglio Auxiliary Bishop of Buenos Aires as Titular Bishop of Auca, which began his rapid rise in the hierarchy of the church. In July of the same year, he became the Coadjutor Bishop of Buenos Aires; in 1998, he became Archbishop of Buenos Aires. Bergoglio became a cardinal in February 2001. According to the Argentine media, Bergoglio was one of the cardinals that received the most votes in the 2005 papal conclave, which elected Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI. Observers consider Bergoglio a “moderate” amongst the Argentine episcopate… he occupies a “middle ground” between conservative prelates and a “progressive” minority.

Opposition to the Authorities

In 2010, Bergoglio strongly opposed the adoption of a law on same-sex marriages… the first such in Latin America. Then, he led a demonstration calling on priests to protect “the integrity of the family” and organised protests in the Argentine National Congress.

Conclave Elected a New Pope

He said, “Let’s not be naïve, we’re not talking about a simple political battle; it’s a destructive pretension against the plan of God”. Bergoglio was a staunch opponent of an Argentine law concerning sexual identity that allowed transvestites and transsexuals to alter the sexual designation on their official documents. These stances… along with disagreements on the fight against poverty, corruption, and crime… are major causes of cooler relations between the Argentine church and the presidential administration. Generally, former Argentine President Néstor Carlos Kirchner called Bergoglio an “opposition leader”, and Bergoglio’s relationship with current President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is still rockier. However, on another matter, the legalisation of abortion, Bergoglio’s position coincides with that of Kirchner, as both implacably oppose it. At the same time, he managed to maintain cordial relations with Julián Andrés Domínguez, the head of the Chamber of Deputies, an equal and respectful association with Daniel Osvaldo Scioli, the Governor of the Province of Buenos Aires, and gets on well with other leading authority figures.

The Shadow of the Dictatorship

In Argentina, the new Pope became a target of criticism from some public figures… they say that he showed insufficient backbone during the 1976-83 military dictatorship; the most radical commentators speak of his “collaboration” with the junta.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio Elected 266th Pope of Rome

In the past, many Argentines repeatedly criticised the Catholic Church for not resisting the dictatorship openly, as the junta killed thousands of its opponents. Last year, Bergoglio apologised for the fact that the Church was unable to protect its flock in the 70’s and 80’s. However, many politicians thought that this statement was “too little, too late”. In their view, Bergoglio cared more about the image of the church than he did to help those investigating the crimes of the junta. Human rights activist Myriam Bregman said that Bergoglio avoided giving direct testimony on these issues.

The first day and the second day of the conclave to elect a new Pope of Rome>>

The Argentine media often talk about two cases in which many assume a certain degree of collusion of Bergoglio with the military junta’s activities. One is a court case regarding the torture of two Jesuit priests kidnapped during the Dirty War in 1976 from poor neighbourhoods. According to some newspapers, one of the priests (the now-deceased Orlando Yorio) allegedly accused Bergoglio that he turned them over to the military authorities, and the second (Franz Jalics) indirectly confirmed this in one of his books. However, all sources agree that junta freed the two priests thanks to the intercession of the higher church hierarchy, including Bergoglio. Bergoglio himself said in turn that he warned the two priests of the danger and even offered sanctuary to one of the Jesuits, but the priest refused that, he said. As one of Bergoglio’s biographies state, during the dictatorship, he did repeatedly shelter opposition figures persecuted by the junta. However, many Argentines still blame Bergoglio that he did so in secret… as the church hierarchy publicly endorsed the junta and urged Catholics to prove their “love of their motherland”, as terror reigned on the streets.

14 March 2013

Oleg Vyazmitinov




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