BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Based on the information I’ve garnered over the past week or so, it would not be fair to characterize Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio – now Pope Francis – as having been complicit with the military dictatorship’s imprisonment, torture and murder of more than 30,000 Argentinians during that country’s “Dirty War.” It would be a lot closer to the truth, however, to see him as a man of inaction; one who, for whatever political, religious and/or personal reasons, chose to remain silent.
While it may be understandable that Bergoglio was unwilling to risk his life during the “Dirty War,” which would have been threatened had he vigorously spoken out against the military dictatorship’s human rights abuses, it is far less understandable why, for the longest time, he has remained virtually indifferent to those who suffered at the hands of sexually abusive clergy in Argentina.
The Washington Post’s Nick Miroff recently reported on the case of Father Julio Cesar Grassi, an Argentine priest who, in 2009 was convicted of sexual abuse, and is now free on appeal. According to Miroff, “in the years after Grassi’s conviction, Bergoglio … has declined to meet with the victim of the priest’s crimes or the victims of other predations by clergy under his leadership. He did not offer personal apologies or financial restitution, even in cases in which the crimes were denounced by other members of the church and the offending priests were sent to jail.”
There is no evidence, Miroff reported, that Bergoglio “played a role in covering up abuse cases.” However, “during most of the 14 years that Bergoglio served as archbishop of Buenos Aires, [prominent] rights advocates say, he did not take decisive action to protect children or act swiftly when molestation charges surfaced; nor did he extend apologies to the victims of abusive priests after their misconduct came to light.”
Ernesto Moreau, a member of Argentina’s U.N.-affiliated Permanent Assembly for Human Rights and a lawyer who has represented victims in a clergy sexual-abuse case told the Associated Press that “Bergoglio has been the strongest man in the Argentine church since the beginning of this century, [and yet] the leadership of the church has never done anything to remove these people from these places, and neither has it done anything to relieve the pain of the victims.”
Bergoglio’s silence during “Dirty War”
Father Jon Sobrino, the Spanish-born Jesuit who has lived, worked, and taught in El Salvador since the late 1960s, was recently interviewed about Pope Francis. When asked about Bergoglio, Sobrino said that while he didn’t know him personally, he has spoken with Argentinians who did. Bergoglio “has been professor of theology, superior and provincial. It is not difficult to talk about his external work. But of the more internal, one can speak only delicately and now respectfully and responsibly. Many companions have spoken of him as a person with deep convictions and temperament, a resolute and relentless fighter.
“…. His austerity was accompanied by a real interest in the poor, the indigenous, trade union members who were attacked; this led him to firmly defend them in the face of successive governments.
While a strong advocate for the poor, Bergogilio wasn’t one who was “actively going out and risking oneself in their defense in the time of repression of the criminal military dictatorships,” Sobrino said. “The complicity of the hierarchy with the dictators is known. Bergoglio was superior of the Jesuits in Argentina from 1973 to 1979, in the years of major repression of civil-military genocide.”
And while Bergoglio was not directly complicit in the dictatorship’s crimes, “it seems correct to say … Bergoglio distanced himself from the Popular Church which was committed to the poor. [He] wasn’t [like El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar] Romero – celebrated for his defense of human rights and assassinated [by the country’s right-wing death squads] while exercising his pastoral ministry. I don’t have enough knowledge, and I say this with the fear of being mistaken, Bergoglio did not present himself like Bishop Angelleli, Argentinian bishop assassinated by the military in 1976. Very possibly this took place in his heart, but he was not accustomed to make visible in public the living memory of [Bishop] Leonidas Proaño [of Ecuador], Bishop Juan Gerardi [of Guatemala], Bishop Sergio Mendez [of Cuernevaca, Mexico]…”
Sobrino goes on to say that “since 1998, [Bergoglio] as archbishop of Buenos Aires, … has accompanied the poorly treated sectors of the big city in various ways -– and with concrete deeds.”
Earlier this week, a U.S.-based group called Bishop Accountability “called on Pope Francis to apologize Tuesday for what it called the Argentine church’s protection of two priests [Grassi and Father Napoleon Sasso] who were eventually convicted of abusing children.”
Bishop Accountability co-director Anne Doyle told the AP: “We would be alarmed if the archbishop Bergoglio had done this in the ‘60s or ‘70s. That would be sad and disturbing. But the fact that he did this just five years ago, when other bishops in other countries were meeting victims and implementing tough reporting laws, it puts him behind some of his American counterparts, that’s for sure.”
(Photo: Angelica Brasil)