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That attitude was burnished as human rights activists tried to force him to answer uncomfortable questions about what church officials knew and did about the dictatorship’s abuses after the 1976 coup.
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," Rubin said.
The bishops also said "we exhort those who have information about the location of stolen babies, or who know where bodies were secretly buried, that they realize they are morally obligated to inform the pertinent authorities."
That statement came far too late for some activists, who accused Bergoglio of being more concerned about the church’s image than about aiding the many human rights investigations of the Kirchners’ era.
Bergoglio twice invoked his right under Argentine law to refuse to appear in open court, and when he eventually did testify in 2010, his answers were evasive, human rights attorney Myriam Bregman said.
At least two cases directly involved Bergoglio. One examined the torture of two of his Jesuit priests — Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics — who were kidnapped in 1976 from the slums where they advocated liberation theology. Yorio accused Bergoglio of effectively handing them over to the death squads by declining to tell the regime that he endorsed their work. Jalics refused to discuss it after moving into seclusion in a German monastery.
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 he 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 the 2010 biography.
Bergoglio — who ran Argentina’s Jesuit order during the dictatorship — told Rubin that he regularly hid people on church property during the dictatorship, and once gave his identity papers to a man with similar features, enabling him to escape across the border. But all this was done in secret, at a time when church leaders publicly endorsed the junta and called on Catholics to restore their "love for country" despite the terror in the streets.
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.
But Bregman said Bergoglio’s own statements proved church officials knew from early on that the junta was torturing and killing its citizens, and yet publicly endorsed the dictators. "The dictatorship could not have operated this way without this key support," she said.
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 killed in 1977. The De la Cuadra family appealed to the leader of the Jesuits in Rome, who urged Bergoglio to help them; Bergoglio then assigned a monsignor to the case. Months passed before the monsignor came back with a written note from a colonel: It revealed that the woman had given birth in captivity to a girl who was given to a family "too important" for the adoption to be reversed.
Despite this written evidence in a case he was personally involved with, Bergoglio testified in 2010 that he didn’t know about any stolen babies until well after the dictatorship was over.
"Bergoglio has a very cowardly attitude when it comes to something so terrible as the theft of babies. He says he didn’t know anything about it until 1985," said the baby’s aunt, Estela de la Cuadra, whose mother Alicia co-founded the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo in 1977 in hopes of identifying these babies. "He doesn’t face this reality and it doesn’t bother him. The question is how to save his name, save himself. But he can’t keep these allegations from reaching the public. The people know how he is."
Initially trained as a chemist, Bergoglio taught literature, psychology, philosophy and theology before taking over as Buenos Aires archbishop in 1998. He became cardinal in 2001, when the economy was collapsing, and won respect for blaming unrestrained capitalism for impoverishing millions of Argentines.
Later, there was little love lost between Bergoglio and Fernandez. Their relations became so frigid that the president stopped attending his annual "Te Deum" address, when church leaders traditionally tell political leaders what’s wrong with society.
During the dictatorship era, other church leaders only feebly mentioned a need to respect human rights. When Bergoglio spoke to the powerful, he was much more forceful. In his 2012 address, he said Argentina was being harmed by demagoguery, totalitarianism, corruption and efforts to secure unlimited power. The message resonated in a country whose president was ruling by decree, where political scandals rarely were punished and where top ministers openly lobbied for Fernandez to rule indefinitely.
Warren reported from Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Catholics, world leaders welcome church’s new pope
World leaders sent in their congratulations and Catholics around the world were celebrating Wednesday after the Vatican announced the election of Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to the papacy — making him the first pontiff from the Americas.
Moments after the decision was announced, President Barack Obama offered “warm wishes” to Pope Francis and said the selection speaks to the strength and vitality of the Americas.
“On behalf of the American people, Michelle and I offer our warm wishes to His Holiness Pope Francis,” Obama said. “As a champion of the poor and the most vulnerable among us, he carries forth the message of love and compassion that has inspired the world for more than 2,000 years.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande also issued statements of congratulations.
Wednesday was “a momentous day for the 1.2 billion Catholics around the world,” Cameron said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he looked forward to cooperation with the Holy See under Pope Francis’ “wise leadership,” while European Union leaders Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso wished the new Catholic leader “a long and blessed pontificate.”
The atmosphere across Latin America was jubilant, with people bursting into tears and cheers on streets from Buenos Aires to Caracas, Venezuela.
“It’s incredible!” said Martha Ruiz, 60, who was weeping tears of emotion in the Argentine capital. She said she had been in many meetings with the cardinal and said, “He is a man who transmits great serenity.”
At the St. Francis of Assisi church in the colonial Old San Juan district in Puerto Rico, church secretary Antonia Veloz exchanged jubilant high-fives with Jose Antonio Cruz, a Franciscan friar.
“It’s a huge gift for all of Latin America. We waited 20 centuries. It was worth the wait,” said Cruz, wearing the brown cassock tied with a rope that is the signature of the Franciscan order.
Even in Communist Cuba, there was pride as church bells rang to celebrate the news.
On Twitter, the pope’s mothballed account was revived and read: “HABEMUS PAPAM FRANCISCUM,” a reference to the cardinal’s new name: Pope Francis.
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