Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss?/updated

Posted by Charles II on March 13, 2013

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.

13 Responses to “Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss?/updated”

  1. jo6pac said

    Slavery is on the rise.

    If there’s one group that should know this it’s this one. Yep nothing new just business as usual

  2. You should read the traditionalists. They all think he’s Che Guevara in a cassock. Seriously:

    • Charles II said

      Yeah, well.

      Consider the source. These are people who aren’t happy going back to the 19th century, because they think the 12th was better.

      And, by the way, they’re not honest in their criticism. Bergoglio does speak four languages, so he’s a polyglot.

      One could easily confuse this with a parody site.

  3. jim said

    Christian Federico von Wernich.

    “BUENOS AIRES, Feb 1 2010 (IPS) – More than two years after he was sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity committed during the 1976-1983 dictatorship in Argentina, former police chaplain Christian von Wernich has not been penalised by the Catholic Church.

    IPS found out that the 71-year-old priest even celebrates mass in prison.

    Von Wernich was sentenced on Oct. 9, 2007 by a court in the city of La Plata, 57 km southeast of Buenos Aires, as an accomplice in the murders of seven members of the Peronist guerrilla organisation Montoneros, which was active in the 1970s, 31 cases of torture, and 42 cases of deprivation of freedom during Argentina’s dirty war.”


    “In the trial held in 2007, the witnesses testifying against him included 41 torture survivors.

    One of them, Luis Velazco, testified that when one desperate torture victim begged the priest “Father, please, I don’t want to die,” von Wernich responded “Son, the lives of the men who are here depend on the will of God and the cooperation that you can offer. If you want to stay alive, you know what you have to do.”

    Since Argentina’s return to democracy in 1983, the position taken by the Church with regard to the accusations against Von Wernich was that it was up to the courts to decide.

    And when the sentence was handed down, the only reaction was a brief statement from Bishop Elizalde saying “we are praying for him, for God to assist him and to grant him the necessary grace to comprehend and repair the damages caused.”

    The statement, which made no mention of penalties for the priest, apologised for the fact that “a priest, by action or omission, was so far from the requirements of the mission commended to him.”

    The bishop also said that “at the appropriate time von Wernich’s situation will have to be resolved in accordance with canonical law.” He never again referred to the issue in public.

    When the sentence was handed down, Father Guillermo Marcó, who was spokesman for conservative Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio at the time, said it was a case of political manipulation by the court in La Plata.

    Marcó also accused the government of then-president Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007), of the centre-left faction of the governing Justicialista (Peronist) Party, of being involved in the manipulation.

    In Marcó’s view, which was taken by analysts as a reflection of the Catholic Church hierarchy’s stance, von Wernich “deserved to be tried,” but the sentence was used to “undermine the Church’s image.”

    During the dictatorship, most of the Church’s leadership had a close relationship with the regime, which they publicly supported.

    • jim said

      Same link for second block quote as the first..

      How does something like this:

      “After the end of the dictatorship, von Wernich was sent by the church to the Parish of 9 July some 250 kilometres from Buenos Aires where he remained until 1996. After that, he moved to Chile where he worked as a priest in El Quisco under the false name of Cristian Gonzalez.

      In 2003, he was discovered there by Hernan Brienza, a journalist who was investigating his involvement in the crimes and who was the author of “Maldito tu eres”, a book on the links between von Wernich and the repressive regime in Argentina” link

      happen without the involvement and knowledge of the hierarchy?

      • Charles II said

        I don’t disagree with you, Jim, but I also think one has to look at where Bergoglio was when the dictatorship was in power (1976-83).

        From 1969-89, he was a priest. In 1998, he was promoted to Archbishop, and three years later bumped up to Cardinal. Now, one may ask why he got a double promotion–that’s certainly rare– and the quick elevation to Cardinal. But during the time of the Argentine dictatorship, he was not in the hierarchy.

        There have been allegations against Bergoglio, and he’s certainly no hero. He has not been helpful in exposing the crimes of the junta, and that invariably raises suspicions that he has something to hide. But I haven’t seen proof that he did different than many people do under dictatorship, namely kneel to the devil.

        By the way, this National Post article points to some even more disturbing anecdotes about Bergoglio. The man has certainly made some enemies among the families of the disappeared.

      • Jim said

        Check out this picture. When published recently various places since the apparent identity of the priest has become a matter of interest; the caption has been updated. Here for example. Buenos Aires was not a small place in 1990, and in a heavily Catholic country in a city with a population in the millions, what were the odds, on any day? On what was probably a momentous day for the newly freed war criminal?

      • Charles II said

        I appreciate the links you have provide, Jim. I don’t doubt that there’s a fire underneath the smoke. That’s why I did an update that went into some detail about the allegations against Bergoglio, and linking an interview with Verbitzky where he details a number of those allegations.

        Giving communion to a dictator, however, is not a crime. It’s an indication of how close Bergoglio and Videla were– but we sort of knew that, since Bergoglio claims to have given Mass at Videla’s home to save the lives of the two priests, Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics. It’s a shame those two won’t come forward to denounce Bergoglio for his role in the Junta.

      • Jim said

        I too think there may be a fire causing the smoke. I read your update, and generally agree with most of it. I may have more to say later on the issue of what went on prior to Alfonsin taking office in 1983.

        On the topic of the images and captions linked in the Mar 15 2:22 am comment several things.

        1. First I am not entirely convinced that this updated caption is correct, that it is in fact Bergoglio with Videla. The final answer will likely be provided by others; this image now circulates widely in various forms (different croppings, credits and captions frequently missing) and probably can’t be ignored by either Getty or the Vatican.

        2. If it is Bergoglio, then he is serving communion to a newly pardoned war criminal and former dictator, more than nine years out of power, but one day out of prison. This is a different thing than whatever transpired between Bergoglio and Videla at a time when Videla was in power. It might imply a rather close and continuing relationship of some sort between the two. No doubt Videla had plenty to confess. Perhaps he felt comfortable with Bergoglio for some reason.

        3. If it is Bergoglio, then the next question would be how did Bergoglio happen to be there in Buenos Aries that day? All the information I find is that after Bergoglio returned from Germany (the timing is missing everywhere), he was assigned to Cordoba (Argentina). The details vary slightly, one of the more detailed will be excerpted at the end. In any case, Bergoglio was apparently assigned 700 km away from where the “priest of a local church, Buenos Aires, 30 December 1990” had his picture taken with newly released war criminal Videla.

        Partial biographical excerpt for Bergoglio: In March 1986 he traveled to Germany to complete his doctoral thesis. Following this his superiors posted him to the College of the Savior, from where he moved to the church of the Society in the city of Cordoba as spiritual director and confessor.

        On 20 May 1992, John Paul II appointed him auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires. On 3 June 1997 he was appointed Coadjutor Archbishop of Buenos Aires, and on February 28, 1998 Archbishop of Buenos Aires, on the death of Cardinal Quarracino.

        Moving on to your most recent comment, Bergoglio claims to have given Mass at Videla’s home to save the lives of the two priests, Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics. It’s a shame those two won’t forward to denounce Bergoglio for his role in the Junta.

        Orlando Yorio died in 2000, but was a source for Verbitsky before he died. Commentary from Yorio’s family concerning Bergoglio within the past 24 hours at the Daily Beast reported by Horatio Verbitsky here.

        Statement of Francisco Jalics released withing the last 24 hours on this very issue: here. Which was about what I expected.

        At the Daily Beast article this statement by Verbitsky: In a written declaration to the courts concerning the abduction of Yorio and another Jesuit, Francisco Jalics, Bergoglio said there were no documents in the episcopal archive relating to the disappeared. But the priest who succeeded him, José Arancedo, sent Judge Martina Forns a copy of the record of a meeting between military dictator Jorge Videla and Bishops Raúl Primatesta, Juan Aramburu and Vicente Zazpe in which they speak with extraordinary frankness about whether or not to say that the disappeared have been executed—because Videla wants to protect the murderers. which was translated from a story that ran 3/14/2013 in Pagina/12 a Buenos Aires newspaper; link.

        The thing about Bergoglio and his elevation is that the record concerning the dirty war is significantly more substantial than the last time he was considered for elevation. The record is not yet complete, his elevation will introduce this to many new eyes.

  4. Dickeylee said

    Well you know that old saw, “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, have your goons take him out over the ocean and throw him in and feed the fishes forever!”

  5. richmx2 said

    As Stalin famously asked, “How many divisions does the Pope have?”. I’m not sure being a high-ranking cleric in a dictatorship is such bad training for a Pope…. who is going to have to deal with the messy real world. Whatever Bergiglioni did, or didn’t do during the dictatorship has to interpreted in light of what he realistically could do and how much he knew. More interesting it seems is how Francis is going to translate his experiences into a position of (at least symbolic) real power.

    I don’t know why it was considered so outrageous that Fr. von Wernich still says Mass in prison. Perhaps he should have been defrocked, but wasn’t, and convicts in Latin American prisons are allowed to practice legitimate trades and have their work tools with them.

  6. The main concern I have had about Pope Francis is what he did during Argentina’s dirty war and its aftermath. The Vatican press office’s reaction (a left-wing defamation) is over-blown, but I do think there are unanswered questions. But then, here are remarks from Adolfo Perez Esquivel, the 1980 Nobel peace prize for documenting the junta’s atrocities, who himself was imprisoned under the junta. I have not heard him mince words when there’s injustice, including Obama and HOnduras’ cardinal Rodriguez whom he castigated strongly: “The road you have chosen of being an accomplice to the military dictatorship is not the way of the Gospel.”
    But here’s what he recently said of Pope Francis:
    “Perhaps he didn’t have the courage of other priests, but he never collaborated with the dictatorship…. Bergoglio was no accomplice of the dictatorship. He can’t be accused of that.”

    • Charles II said

      There was no candidate, in my opinion, that was capable of undertaking the serious reform the Church is in need of. If Pope Francis achieves any degree of reform, I’ll be more than satisfied. The Argentine Dirty War was long enough ago, and Fr. Bergoglio was in such a junior position, that I suspect Esquivel’s assessment will be proven correct.

      Jim has raised a separate, though related issue: what was Bishop/Archbishop/Cardinal Bergoglio’s role in covering up the deeds of the Dirty War? Why wasn’t von Wernich defrocked for his participation in torture sessions? (Assuming the photo is correctly captioned) why was Fr. Bergoglio back from Germany and in Buenos Aires to give communion to Videla? Why was Cardinal Bergoglio so reticent in giving testimony that could have helped to unravel the crimes of the Dirty War.

      The third issue has to do with Communion and Liberation and, more broadly, with the Church as a political organization. I did a post about the scandal engulfing the Italian branch of that organization, a scandal which probably knocked Cardinal Scola out of the running, and made possible Bergoglio’s elevation.

      The question is why Communion and Liberation is, allegedly, involved in kickbacks and money laundering. In the 1970s, it was reputed to be a CIA front. In the 1980s, the Church was involved directly with the CIA in overthrowing the Polish government. That involved fancy footwork with money. I was heartened to see your mention that Bergoglio rebuked the Honduran Cardinal for involvement with the military coup, because that’s the question here: is the Church going to continue to be a political player, or will it return to the mission of the gospel?

      This is a complicated enough topic that I think a new thread is in order.

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