May 21, 2013
Old stories target New World Pope
In such a politically polarized country as Argentina today (in accordance with government needs), there are no more than two options — K or anti-K.
No room for any middle ground — any attempt along those lines and the polarization vacuum-cleaner would sweep the "non-militant" away into one of the two opposing trenches. So mighty is this Argentine vacuum-cleaner that its suction powers could even reach Rome in a bid to freeze-frame the new Holy Father no less as an adherent of the 1976-83 military dictatorship. And thus in the opposition trenches. One of the many marvels of Argentina — ignominy as an export.
This is not exactly a matter of faith. The main driving-force behind the thesis that Jorge Bergoglio was an accomplice of the military regime is the journalist and Casa Rosada advisor Horacio Verbitsky, who published a book to press that case in 2005. Yesterday any complicity of Bergoglio with the junta dictatorship was denied by 1980 Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel.
"Bergoglio was questioned for not doing the necessary as Jesuit superior to get two priests out of jail but I personally know for a fact that many bishops interceded with the military junta for the release of prisoners and priests to no avail," the Nobel Prize winner recalls. But Verbitsky is sticking to his 2005 story, devoting the centrefold of yesterday’s edition of Página/12 to rubbing the point home.
Strangely enough, 2005 was also the year in which then President Néstor Kirchner broke with the Argentine Church hierarchy. And how could he not? The sermons and public stances of the then Buenos Aires archbishop and today Pope Francis were not exactly making him the patron saint of the Kirchners, who stopped attending the traditional national day Te Deums of May 25 in order to escape the admonitions of Bergoglio.
"A danger of one-track thinking," "scandalous poverty," "(political) exhibitionism with strident announcements," "poverty is also a violation of human rights" and "power as an ideology in itself is mendacious madness and fatally damages the vision of a nation" were only some of the phrases the Kirchners would rather not hear.
Whether another coincidence or not, 2005 also saw the death of Pope John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla) and the election of Joseph Ratzinger in the Petrine succession with Bergoglio widely named as very much in the running in that race. Two big guns joined the attack — Mothers of Plaza de Mayo leader Hebe de Bonafini and picket leader Luis D’Elia, also a parallel foreign minister pioneering the relations with Iran which Héctor Timerman was to pompously seal eight years later in Ethiopia.
This anti-Bergoglio Trinity was not a quest for any doctrinal re-interpretation of the faith but for far more earthly results — giving the Cardinal Primate of Argentina a blast of the political polarization vacuum-cleaner in order to drive him into opposition trenches. Thee was more: that two recognized opposition politicians (Elisa Carrió and Gabriela Michetti) frequented the Archbishop’s confessional surely contributed to the conspiratorial reasoning that the cardinal’s irritating sermons must have come from somewhere. Even if that somewhere was the confessional.
Shoved into a trench by the political infighting emanating from the Argentine government, the Cardinal Primate then started showing his opposition teeth — pronouncements against legislation favouring abortion, gay marriage and euthanasia (only to be expected from a doctrinally conservative cardinal), all answered with the cheap shots of the moment.
But the memory of the anti-Bergoglio Trinity returned with a vengeance this week, the moment that the Argentine’s elevation to the papacy became known. "Francis is to Latin America what John Paul II was to the Soviet Union — a new attempt by the empire to destroy South American unity," tweeted pro-Iran picket leader Luis D’Elía. In other words, for a man who can walk into the Casa Rosada any time he likes, the Pope lies at the heart of an international conspiracy.
Not wanting to be left behind, Hebe de Bonafini gave her own theological classes — she said that the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo have maintained contacts "only with Third World priests ... almost ever since we started our struggle," adding: "As for this Pope they have just named, we can only say: "Amen." The official Church is oppressive but Third World priests are a liberating force, she explained. She could not have spelled it out more clearly — in Bonafini’s eyes, this Pope is an oppressor.
The funny thing about all this is the silence. And here we are not referring to the title of the book seeking to link Pope Francis to the military dictatorship ("El Silencio"). The odd thing is the silence of the Casa Rosada in the face of these rumours striving to smear the man elected in the Vatican conclave, among other reasons because he was found to be completely clean of all the dirty linen aired by the Vatileaks.
Bergoglio is now in Rome as the head of 1.2 billion people. From an enemy soldier in the local trenches he has passed to represent a global — and celestial — power. This is not the time to insist on K polarization for export, nor with sins of omission. And in that case the big omission would be the reconciliation claimed by the 70 percent of the Argentine population which considers itself Catholic.