Amid jubilation following the announcement of Latin America’s first pope, the Argentinian Jorge Bergoglio, lurk some dark questions about his past.
What exactly was his role during the military dictatorship, at a time when the Catholic Church lent support to the torturers, with some priests even giving spiritual sustenance to perpetrators during torture sessions?
While mainstream media outlets are full of celebratory fanfare, people on social media are looking a little deeper.
Some refer to a 2005 letter, signed by leading human rights journalist Horacio Verbitsky which talks of ‘five new testimonies that confirmed the role of Bergoglio in the military governments repression.... including the disppearances of priests.’
The cardinal is alleged to have withdrawn the right to preach to a number of priests shortly before they were ‘disappared’.
Bergoglio was also called to testify in the case of babies stolen from female political prisoners who gave birth in captivity and later disappeared.
An estimated 30,000 disappeared during the years of repression. Around 5,000 passed through the sceret torture centre at the Army’s Mechanical School (ESMA). Only around 100 survived.
Gaston Chiller of the Argentinian human rights organization CELS comments: ‘ The Catholic Church has never apologised for its involvement with the dictatorship.’
Will it do so now?
In terms of other rights issues, the new pope opposed Argentina’s progressive equal marriage laws (allowing same sex marriage); remains opposed to the legalization of abortion and is against any form of euthansia or ‘dignified death.’
The adoption of the name Francis – to signify humility and poverty – is a wise move, but another image may yet haunt the new pontiff: a photo of him with the dictator General Videla.
As for a break with tradition – it’s hard to see in this regard. Remember the former Pope Benedict’s days in the Hitler youth?