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It is easy for us to condemn those who live under tyranny

What would we have done in Argentina?

By on Friday, 22 March 2013

Fr Bergoglio as a young priest in Argentina (CNS)

Fr Bergoglio as a young priest in Argentina (CNS)

My brother has stereotyped me as someone who only reads the Daily Telegraph, never the Guardian. Well, he’s wrong. On Wednesday I was sitting in a cafe with my mother (she in whose company I am not allowed to mention the vulgar word “blog”) and there were free copies of that day’s Guardian lying about. Naturally I picked one up. First I noticed the cartoon: a large caricature of Pope Francis. That’s acceptable; he is a public figure and cartoons can be gently humorous – look at the wonderful cartoons of Matt of the Telegraph, which is partly the reason I read it in the first place. (He did a very funny one during the papal conclave of a man staring at puffs of white smoke coming out of his car’s exhaust pipe.) But to return to the Guardian cartoon: there was the Pope – with “junta-style” military headwear perched on top of his white skull cap. Nasty.

But then in the same issue I got a pleasant surprise: a balanced article entitled “Pope Francis: the hidden history” with the subtitle, “The pontiff has been lambasted over his failure in 1976 to speak out against the military junta in Argentina. But some argue his covert actions saved many lives.” Written by Uki Goni, the article is fair-minded and sensible. Referring to the military dictatorship which took power in early 1976, he comments: “That the Provincial Superior of the Society of Jesus in Argentina, Jorge Bergoglio, was not among those who put themselves publicly at the forefront [in confronting the military] has left his role during that period open to interpretation now that he has become Pope Francis.”

Quoting the 1980 Nobel peace prize-winner, Adolfo Perez Esquivel that “There is no link relating him [Bergoglio] to the dictatorship”, Goni makes it clear that witnesses are now coming forward “to paint a formerly unseen picture of Bergoglio moving secretly behind the scenes to rescue a number of priests whose lives were in danger from the military death squads that began roaming Argentina.” One of these witnesses, Fr Miguel La Civita, states that Bergoglio was secretly active “helping people who were persecuted by the military”, hiding them at the school he headed in Buenos Aires. Robert Cox, former editor of the English-language daily Buenos Aires Herald at the time of the dictatorship, says that “Bergoglio didn’t speak out” but adds that those who are now critical of the Holy Father’s behaviour “don’t understand the complexity of Bergoglio’s position back then when things were so dangerous. They can’t see how difficult it was to operate under those conditions.”

It is very easy from the comfort of one’s armchair to condemn a person from a far country you know little about for not “speaking out” while living under a repressive regime, when to do so might put the lives of others at risk. Bergoglio was running a Jesuit school at the time; he must have been acutely conscious of his duty of care for the pupils for whom he was responsible. That he also hid in the school people who were on the hit list of the junta was itself an extremely risky thing to do; what if they had been found out?

This all too likely possibility reminds me of that powerful, semi-autobiographical film, Au Revoir Les Enfants made by Louis Malle in 1987. It was January 1944, northern France was occupied by the Germans and Malle was a 12-year-old boy at a Jesuit boarding school in Fontainebleau. The headmaster, Pere Jean (Pere Jaques in real life), who is portrayed as a brave and dedicated priest, if rather austere, hid three Jewish boys at the school. They were discovered in a raid by the Gestapo and taken to Auschwitz. The headmaster himself was arrested at the same time and taken to Mauthausen concentration camp where he died the following year.

Sometimes there is as much bravery and virtue in enduring and suffering behind the scenes as there is in confrontation: a white martyrdom, as it is called. Who knows what Pope Francis had to endure during those violent years, what hidden acts of self-sacrifice he made, what dangers he courted?
I have been inclined to dismiss the Guardian as a stereotypical Left-wing secular tract; I think I’ll revise my opinion.

  • Benedict Carter

    We should condemn ourselves, because in the modern oligarchic Britain and certainly in the EUSSR, we all live under a tyranny – as the poor Cypriots have now found out.

    By the way, don’t be too hasty Mr Philips to criticise either the Argentinian junta or Pinochet in Chile. These men to many Catholics (and others) are heroes: they stopped armed Communist terrorism in its tracks. 13,000 Argentinians were killed by Communist terrorists during the so-called “Dirty War”.

    Perhaps you should write an article explaining how Catholicism was defended by these men, along with the principles of private property and family, upon which any sane society is built?

    This knee-jerk condemnation Guardian-style against these fine Catholic heroes disgusts me, quite frankly.

  • $362439

    Trouble is, two of the senior officers in the military junta were Freemasons: Mason and Massera. None of the criminals who ruled Argentina were Catholics in any meaningful sense, let alone worthy defenders of the Church. At least Margaret Thatcher made the right decision to give their armed forces a good hiding.

  • Benedict Carter

    The Falklands War was the reason I joined the Navy after university. She was of course right. The Masons are very strong in many Latin American countries (and rule Mexico) I know, as well as Europe and the US.

  • LocutusOP

    Future generations will judge us Catholics harshly when looking back at this period when we allowed for the destruction of marriage, separation of children from their natural parents, mass slaughter of children in the womb (and outside in many cases), unjust wars for pure greed, abolition of individual liberty. They will have every right to do as well.

    The Catholic Church can always do more, but we shouldn’t judge our bishops more harshly than we judge ourselves.

    The reason we honour martyrs is because what they do is so unusual and noble, and unless we’re willing to sacrifice our livelihoods and our lives for the cause (and none of the people who criticise this Pope or that Pope would be) then we do best to be quiet and reflect on what we can do instead.

  • Pope Zicola

    Well said, LocutusOP!

    As for martyrs, a sentiment/reason/observation/symbolism/reminder:

    The absence of the papal red shoes on Pope Francis continues to disturb me somewhat. As we know (and the fun fact has been mentioned in previous posts here) the papal red shoes signify that the Holy Father walks in the steps of where the blood of the holy martyrs spilled…as the vast majority of the early church were sent to indescribable slaughter, suffering and death… all for the sake of entertainment for pagans… in Rome.

    Their courage was breathtaking and earned for them the martyr’s crown and the ultimate witness to Christ.

    Comes to think of it, there is a glaringly obvious parallel in what happened to Christians then as what is happening to us now! I know full well that most lions and other fierce creatures are either endangered or in a zoo but, then again, humans are just as lethal!

    Oh, if only someone at the Vatican (particularly one who has the ear of the Holy Father) would point out that the red shoes are emphatically NOT fashion statements and that he won’t suddenly turn into Moira Shearer if he tries them on! (Moira Shearer’s character wore and danced in Red Shoes in the oldie-but-goldie film of the same name).

    We care about the colour of the shoes but we couldn’t give a flying fondant-coated cupcake about the material they’re made of.

    For centuries, we Roman Catholics have been given a lot of stick for wearing and displaying our symbols – all because of our critics totally barmy misinterpretation of ‘idolatry’.

    We paid with our lives and livelihoods for the freedom to wear them.

    From the very moment that Protestantism came along, the first items to get thrown into the bin or thrown on the fire and desecrated were our symbols – our rosary beads, chaplets, Sacred Heart pictures, crucifixes, incense, bells, mantillas etc. etc.

    My Parish Priest has been expressing indignation and sadness about the absence of a lot of things concerning the faith, including the glaring absence of symbols that help keep our faith firmly in the hi-definition picture.

    Once upon a time, you could tell when you were passing by a home of a Roman Catholic family because you can’t miss the cross-shaped printed picture of the Sacred Heart, which would be pinned onto the door’s tiny window … and another item was the blue and white statue of Our Lady of Grace in the bedroom window, gently caressed by the breeze and fluttering net curtains. The family in question dwelling within those walls may not have been the perfect Oxo Family of Roman Catholicism but it was a touching yet powerful ‘witness’ of faith nonetheless.

    Fast forward to now. When you go about your business like go to the shop, post a letter or walk your dog, it’s the wide screen telly, purchased on the never-never that lights up the room it is in… and half the neighbourhood! It is disturbing to me that they are also to be found in those box-room-sized bedrooms!

    Council Tax would be slashed if the lights from these televisions would be utilised instead of your average regiment of street-lights.

    Perhaps it’s the next best thing to going to the most famous High Street opticians to actually find out if one’s eyesight is failing… the solution being only to get a bigger, better telly!

    My spouse-to-be and I had a chat about our future home and how it will be furnished once the banns are read, the canonicals observed and celebrated… and the hot water bottles topped up. For a kick-off, we agreed that we will not have one of those stating-the-beep-bleeping-obvious televisions. If anything, it will be the smallest telly you can buy (as mine is on its way out after sixteen years) and it will be confined to one room. We will, however, have our house blessed by the priest and enthrone the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

    Whoopiedoo, I hear you say. What am I after? A heavenly Crackerjack pencil for contributions to the Roman Catholic faith?

    No. Far from it. Please stick with me, I’m getting there…

    Pope Francis joins the unique list of popes who have been caught up in ‘the times’ i.e. the midst of heinous regimes, dictatorships and tyranny in the 20th Century… before they became pontiff, during their pontificate… and even after their pontificate.

    Pope Pius XII, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and now Francis.

    Pius XII sounded the warning shot about Nazism before World War II began whilst he was a Vatican diplomat. As usual, Winston Churchill is credited in history of the same – his gun must have been more of a cannon…

    Here’s a brick wall, ladies and gentlemen! If you take a look here, it’s the dent in the brick wall where popes, good people and Cassandras alike would bang their heads against. Little wonder that the Vatican has its own chemist…

    The Venerable Archbishop Fulton John Sheen told the incredible story of how the then Eugenio Pacelli’s life was saved from an assassin’s gunshot by his pectoral cross. The unexpected twist to the telling of this story was that Archbishop Sheen took the pectoral cross (that was round his neck all the time) in his hand, showed it to the camera, and announced that this was the VERY CROSS that saved the Pacelli’s life!

    He proudly stated that, for Pacelli (who subsequently was elected Pope), he was no longer afraid… not even of Hitler or his henchmen!

    The gasp from the studio audience was something to behold.

    Ask yourselves these questions:

    Would we have condemned the bystanders who saw President John F Kennedy shot in Dallas,Texas, for not doing more to save their president? OR those who were in St Peter’s Square in Rome when Pope John Paul II was shot? Or the Polish for not stepping up to prevent Nazi tanks from invading their fragile Polish fatherland? Or the men behind Operation Valkyerie (sorry if the spelling is wrong) for failing to blow up Hitler in order to save further bloodshed and evil?

    Did the bloke with the two shopping bags manage to stop the tanks in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, or bring about an end to Communism in China? No. The shopping-bag bloke knew, though, that the world was watching these bullies and that the so-called ‘Free World’ would be keeping a beady eye on them from now on – in this case, with little effect thanks to trade and cheap goods.

    Still, shopping-bag bloke gave it a darn good lash, which is more than I could say for people with so-called power and influence.

    If we were not concerned about what is going on in the wider world, then we are either up our own crevice or need serious medical help. To harmonise with being aware of the wider world, there are more serious pressing matters closer to home that are just as pressing, right under our nose…

    Ireland, for example, is the exception to the rule. Recent exposure of the heinous, disgraceful way Irish society ‘dealt with’ their children since the foundation of the State in 1922.

    Ring any bells? Ryan, Murphy and MacAleese Reports?

    Ding-a-ding! Ding!

    Is there a collective ‘mea culpa’ from the Irish, here? No. Could the neighbours have prevented the wrongs done to their seen-but-not-heard neighbours? Are those who lived though those generations (and are still alive) feeling guilty that they did what they did in the first place ‘for the best’ or they could have ‘done something’? No. They preferred to load it all on the RC Church, with their current prime minister using Dail Eireann as a sounding board and launch pad in order to fling his bile of blame at the Roman Catholic Church. Irish RC Church parishoners were more concerned about their own so-called standing in the neighbourhood or village than to reflect on their own faults and the beauty of Christ’s forgiveness from the cross? Now, Ireland is throwing the baby out with the bathwater as far as matters of faith and the church is concerned.

    Will Pope Francis pay a visit to Ireland any time soon? If or when he does, will he be shown a pitchfork and get told to go away in no uncertain terms? Granted, it will be a different ball game from JPII’s visit to Ireland in 1979 but it will be a huge test for the country and our pontiff.

    Are you, like me, sick to the back teeth with people coming out with such sound bites as ‘something must be done’, ‘lessons will be learned’ etc. etc. etc. yadda-yadda-yadda-yadda…

    King Edward VIII, it has been said, was supposed to have uttered the same words ‘something must be done’ when he saw poverty in Wales during the Depression.

    In the true spirit of the empty-vessel sound-byte, he jacked in the throne for ‘leurve’ and went to live in luxurious exile in the South of France. More people than not breathed a sigh of relief for a great many reasons when this happened.

    I paid the price for speaking up to a couple of spoiled little girls in school uniform who, one day, thought it was a great giggle to throw rolled up pieces of paper at some old women who were pressing the button on the street crossing.

    What price did I pay? Well, they called me names whenever they would see me walking my dog. I would keep my counsel each time. After a day or so, I left the ‘controlled explosion’ version of a message for their head teacher on the school answerphone. It had the desired effect for a day or so until I complained again. It worked but at a personal price… but I do not regret it, as it prevented other people taking their nonsense.

    We’ve got to stop being cafeteria, second-life-avatar, wet-lettuce, cowardy custard fantasy Catholics.

    We must start being Roman Catholics – No more, no less, no compromise.

  • Pope Zicola

    I’m no more a fan of The Guardian than you, Benedict.

    I have no time for politicians because they promise you the world and give you an out of date paper map instead.

    One thing that has featured large in the examination of the legacy of, um, ”failures” of Vatican II is the alleged (sorry, my thesaurus is out of order, so I had to use the a-word for the want of another) infiltration of Freemasons into various rungs of the Roman Catholic Church’s ladder who decided to do some ‘tinkering’. Hence, the ‘abuses’ of liturgy etc. blamed on Vatican II.

    It is a heinous dereliction of teachers to not get it through to us people of faith that membership of the Freemasons is a grievous sin – the degree of sin I cannot pin-point but, at a guess, it could be regarded as a mortal sin and result in excommunication.

    Hugo Chavez, Franco and Peron were not perfect examples of Roman Catholics no more than Collins, de Valera or de Gaulle.

    To paraphrase what my bishop said at World Youth Day 2011, imparting sound advice he received when he was younger:

    If you stick with the Pope, you can’t go wrong.

    It’s his compass and it should be ours, too, which is why the Pope is no ordinary or conventional leader.

    There was a time when photos of John XXIII, John F. Kennedy and De Valera would nestle for prime position on the walls of the Irish living rooms beside the holy pictures as people to look up to and therefore acquiring saint-like status.

    It was the equivalent of having pictures of European royalty and British royalty – except you raise a glass … and not pray to them!

  • Benedict Carter

    A “grievous” sin IS a mortal sin – it’s the new Vatican II-speak word for the same thing.

    If a Catholic becomes a Freemason, he AUTOMATICALLY EXCOMMUNICTATES himself and if he dies in that condition, he is damned.

  • LocutusOP

    First of all, congratulations on your upcoming wedding.

    I am also surprisingly perturbed by Pope Francis’s decision to forego the red shoes. I didn’t even know it was Papal tradition until it was announced that Pope Benedict would be wearing brown shoes after his renunciation. Now that I know why they are red for Popes, I find the decision to wear another colour quite disrespectful to both tradition and symbolism – both important.

    Finally, full agreement on “We must start being Roman Catholics – No more, no less, no compromise.”

  • jae

    Now you really showed your mindset here, calling the ruthless Military junta and Pinochet as heroes. They were the primary recruiters of the same tyrannical communism in the first place because of their atrocities, injustice, greed and corruption to their own people.

    You don’t have have any idea of what its like to live under tyrannical dictorship and the tortures they implement, do you?

  • jae

    Historically the ‘islands’ belong to the Argentinians. Britain got it because of her colonialist past. If the Argentinians are as ruthless and big as the Chinese, Britain will not even bother to pick a fight.

  • http://jessicahof.wordpress.com/ JessicaHof

    Good points Francis. It reminded me of today’s Passion narrative and the role played by Pilate. Easy to condemn him, but many of us would have gone for the quiet life too. It seems as though the Archbishop trod a sensible line.

  • http://jabbapapa.wordpress.com/ Julian Lord

    Historically the ‘islands’ belong to the Argentinians

    Rubbish.

  • http://twitter.com/gerchi Germán Riesco

    Very insightful article!
    I’m from Argentina and I’ve witnessed in flesh the old and current tyrannies you describe!
    A very tiny faction of Argentinian society (left-wing; atheist, anti-clerical, guerilla-related and closely linked to the current government) maliciously invented the tale that Bergoglio was involved in the dissappearance of some Jesuits and that he did not act accordingly!
    A great story evilly made up by a few that earned media attention worldwide and locally!
    It had to happen! They had to spot a grey area in Pope Francis’ background!
    Paradoxically, truth is being evinced lately with many reports claiming Bergoglio’s innocence but it will surely not catch the same media buzz!
    The Father of Lies acted and many bought its slander!

  • JAF

    In 1982, just after the Argentine invasion I clearly remember the Guardian proposing their cunning plan to resolve the Falklands conflict. The great brains of the Guardian proposed that Argentine should give compensation to the Falklanders to encourage them to move out – and that Britain should give the Argentines a loan to pay for this.

    A bit like one of Baldrick’s cunning plans, but then Baldrick and the Guardian are both of the looney left.