May 24, 2013
Pope’s Argentine legacy
Bergoglio’s legacy as cardinal includes his efforts to repair the reputation of a Church that lost many followers by failing to openly challenge Argentina’s murderous 1976-83 dictatorship. His own record as the head of the Jesuit order in Argentina at the time has been tarnished as well.
Many Argentines remain angry over the Church’s acknowledged failure to openly confront a regime that was kidnapping and killing thousands of people as it sought to eliminate “subversive elements” in society. It’s one reason why more than two-thirds of Argentines describe themselves as Catholic, but fewer than 10 percent regularly attend mass.
Under Bergoglio’s leadership, Argentina’s bishops issued a collective apology in October 2012 for the Church’s failures to protect its flock. But the statement blamed the era’s violence in roughly equal measure on both the junta and its enemies.
“Bergoglio has been very critical of human rights violations during the dictatorship, but he has always also criticized the leftist guerrillas; he doesn’t forget that side,” his official biographer, Sergio Rubin said.
Bergoglio’s own role in the so-called Dirty War has been the subject of controversy. At least two court cases directly involved Bergoglio. One examined the torture of two of his Jesuit priests who were kidnapped in 1976 from the slums where they advocated liberation theology. One accused Bergoglio of effectively handing him over to the junta.
Both men were freed after Bergoglio took extraordinary, behind-the-scenes action to save them — including persuading dictator Jorge Videla’s family priest to call in sick so that Bergoglio himself could say Mass in the junta leader’s home, where he privately appealed for mercy. His intervention likely saved their lives, but Bergoglio never shared the details until Rubin interviewed him for a 2010 biography. Rubin said failing to challenge the dictators was simply pragmatic at a time when so many people were getting killed, and attributed Bergoglio’s later reluctance to share his side of the story as a reflection of his humility.
Bergoglio also was accused of turning his back on a family that lost five relatives to state terror, including a young woman who was 5-months’ pregnant before she was kidnapped and eventually killed in 1977. The woman’s child, who survived, was given to an “important” family. Despite written evidence indicating he knew the child had been given away, Bergoglio testified in 2010 that he didn’t know about any stolen babies until well after the dictatorship was over.