… and what does his silence on that horror say about his history in Argentina?
The Silences of Pope Francis
It is safe to assume that Pope Francis knows very well that the Catholic Church supported the military coup and dictatorship of General Franco in Spain. In this light, the recent service honoring the members of the Church who fell during the Spanish Civil War on the fascist side casts doubt on what motivated the silence of Bishop Bergolio (Pope Francis) during the Argentinian coup.
January 21, 2014
When Catholic Church leaders chose the new pope, for the most part the media responded favorably; they underlined how Francis’ style diverged from that of his predecessors, and how the new pope seemed to already assume a distinctive and progressive new role in the Church. Some, including myself, however, expressed reservations. We were wary of the silence maintained by former Argentinian Bishop Bergoglio during the brutal human rights violations under the Argentinian dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s. The dictatorship, established in defense of the more privileged groups in Argentina, was especially brutal to any dissidents and opponents of its reign. This silence reflected a lack of sensitivity to gross human rights violations carried out by dictatorships with close ties to the Catholic Church.
The Church issued an immediate response to these reservations, emphasizing that Bishop Bergoglio had not collaborated with the dictatorship (unlike many fellow Argentinian Catholic leaders at the time) and that his silence was in an effort to help victims as best he could, while avoiding antagonizing their persecutors. I have to admit that I did not find this response convincing, as it is has been issued by the Church on many occasions when its silence in the face of human rights violations is criticized.
Still, given Pope Francis’ actions since he began his papacy, his excuse regarding his silence during the Argentinian dictatorship seems to confirm that it was a tactical and honest move. He has repeatedly encouraged the Catholic faithful to extend their commitment to the poor beyond helping individuals and to seek elimination of poverty’s root causes, even intervening actively in struggles against oppression, if necessary. Moreover, he has indicated more than once that the causes of poverty stem from the exploitation of the working world for the benefit of capital and its relentless quest to increase profits. The fact that he has demonstrated understanding of, if not sympathy with, liberation theology also seems to confirm that my suspicions were unfounded. It seems, after all, that Bergoglio’s silence was a tactical one justified by a special situation.