Update, 3/14 (posted also as a comment at DK): Jim, in comments below, mentioned Bergoglio/Francis’s human rights record, which I didn’t get into and, in particular, Christian Federico von Wernich, a police chaplain who participated in the torture sessions of the Dirty War. The Catholic Church, to say the least, has been uncooperative with unraveling the crimes committed by the Argentine Junta.
I have been hesitant to get into this, because Bergoglio was a priest until 1989. As such, he had little decision-making power in what happened during the dictatorship (1976-83). However, he was in a senior priestly position, becoming a provincial in 1973, then rector of a seminary in 1980. He only reached a position of real power, that of Bishop in 1992. Even that was not a full bishopric as I understand it (he was an auxiliary bishop and then a titular bishop).
In 1998, he was bumped up to Archbishop and, three years later, to Cardinal–a position of real power. He therefore does bear culpability for the failure of the Church to confess its crimes in Argentina.
But now, Democracy Now has done an extended interview (here and here) of one of the journalists who has covered the story, Horacio Verbitzky, and I don’t think this story is going to go away. In addition to providing detail on the human rights abuses, Verbitsky says that he believes that Bergoglio has been elevated to do to Latin America what John Paul II did to Eastern Europe: destroy governments that have brought the progressive change that has actually led to a decline in poverty.
This is a fascinating, panoramic take on the situation. It gets above the disputed (but serious) human rights allegations that may yet end in Bergoglio being forced to resign for the good of the Church and suggests a motive for the selection of a 76-year man with one lung and a dangerously close connection to serious human rights abuses.
Now, there are alternate explanations. One is that Bergoglio comes from outside the viper’s nest of internal Vatican politics, and will clean it up. Or perhaps it’s a belated recognition by the Church of the importance of the Americas. Maybe Bergoglio’s a compromise candidate, given the cloud of scandal around Angelo Scola.
This is one thing to look to. How will Bergoglio/Francis deal with the governments of Latin America? So far, he has placed himself in opposition, declaring a Holy War (guerra de Dios) against the law that grants marriage equality to Argentinians. He espouses the primacy of the poor, but doesn’t like the State to do anything to alleviate their situation. Is he really emulating Francis of Assisi? Or Francis of Spain (1892-1975), Francisco Franco?
From a Wikileaked cable from 2005:
Based on these initial showings, the cardinals in subsequent votes are expected to shift to other candidates who reflect the Ratzinger or Martini views, but who offer better hope of garnering support from other groups. Italian Cardinals Ruini or Scola, and Argentinian Cardinal Bergolio would be suitable to the Ratzinger camp, while Milan’s Archbishop Cardinal Tettamanzi or Brazilian Cardinal Hummes could pull the support of the anti-Ratzinger groups.
…BERGOGLIO, Jorge Mario: Born December 17, 1936 in Buenos Aires, and ordained December 13, 1969 during his theological studies at the Theological Faculty of San Miguel. Bergoglio served as Jesuit Provincial (elected leader of the order) for Argentina (1973-79) and rector of the Philosophical and Theological Faculty of San Miguel (1980-86). After completing his doctoral dissertation in Germany, Bergoglio served as a confessor and spiritual director in Cordoba. In 1992, the Pope appointed him Assistant Bishop of Buenos Aires; then in 1997, he was appointed Coadjutor Archbishop (deputy archbishop with right
of succession) of Buenos Aires; ultimately becoming Archbishop on February 28, 1998. Bergoglio is the vice-President of the Argentine Bishops Conference and serves on the Vatican’s committee for the worldwide synod of bishops (a grouping of all bishops conferences). He speaks Spanish, Italian and German. Bergoglio exemplifies the virtues of the wise pastor that many electors value. Observers have praised his humility: he has been reluctant to accept honors or hold high office and commutes to work on a bus. What could count against him is his membership in the Jesuit order. Some senior prelates,
especially conservatives, are suspicious of a liberal streak in the order, perhaps most pronounced in the U.S., but also present elsewhere. Bergoglio is said to prefer life in the local Church as opposed to a bureaucratic existence in Rome’s ecclesiastical structures, but at the same time he has been willing to serve on the Vatican’s various supervisory committees. This could indicate an ability to bridge the curia/local church divide that splits the College of Cardinal Electors, making him a good compromise candidate.
Acceptable to Ratzinger? Check.
Against Liberation Theology? Check, although he once supported it.
Strongly anti-gay? Check.
Associated with Communion and Liberation? Check.
But maybe not wholly without merit. Redneck Catholic:
The mass was celebrated by Jorge Cardinal Bergolio in Buenos Aries, for prostitutes, immigrants and slaves. In his homily he spoke of things that I have been disturbed by for several years. Most importantly he spoke of slavery.
Slavery is on the rise. has been for over two decades. It’s widespread, and it’s not confined to third world hell holes. It’s found in affluent, industrialized nations as well.
I guess his age made him a dark horse, which is why there’s been so little talk of him as a candidate. But he looks to me like another effort to kick the can down the road, rather than engage in real reform.
We shall see.
By the way, the correct spelling is apparently Bergoglio.