POPE not actually war criminal shock! The roiling confusion
about the part played by the Pope in the Argentinian "dirty war"
started almost immediately after he was named. I didn't catch up
with it for a couple of hours, since I was busy rewriting the
analysis piece to make clear that Cardinal Bergoglio had, all
along, been the choice of the truly well-informed.
Imagine, then, my excitement on learning that a British
newspaper's religion website (I think it would be quite wrong here
to mention the word "Guardian" or to name the editor of
that section, a wretch too obscure to pillory) had, two or three
years ago, published a piece suggesting that the then Cardinal
Bergoglio had behaved disgracefully in the dirty war.
This excitement was widely shared. It was then transformed into
a variety of less enjoyable emotions in the course of a long
night's telephoning and emailing across the Atlantic, as it became
clear that the book on which these allegations were supposedly
based didn't in fact say anything of the sort.
Anyway: what the book, The Silence by an Argentinian
journalist, Horacio Verbitsky, did allege was that Bergoglio, when
he was Provincial of the Society of Jesus in Argentina, had
betrayed or otherwise let down two Jesuit priests who were
kidnapped from their slum mission, imprisoned and tortured for five
months, and finally dumped, drugged and half-naked, in a field.
So far as I can work out, this is simply not true. Bergoglio was
not a fan of liberation theology, but he was not a collaborator
with the junta, either. I spoke at considerable length with an
Argentinian journalist who lived through the dirty war, and also
with Margaret Hebblethwaite, in Paraguay, herself the widow of an
Neither of these women could be called right-wing in either
Roman Catholic or secular terms. Both were convinced, on the basis
of personal acquaintance and experience, that Bergoglio had been
one of the priests who had worked, quietly and courageously, to
save whom he could from torture and death.
Others, especially the military chaplains, were deeply
compromised. Probably a majority in the Church did nothing, or
sided with the government against the Marxist urban guerrillas. But
Bergoglio was among the heroic minority who acted.
Hebblethwaite's article in Friday's Guardian was
unusual in its humanity. "A different picture has been painted by
one of Bergoglio's friends, a radical feminist and Catholic called
Clelia Luro, who is about as far to the left on the ecclesial
spectrum as you can go. She married a prominent and respected
bishop, Jerónimo Podestá - one of the leaders of the progressive
reforms that followed the second Vatican council - and was
sometimes seen concelebrating mass with him, the kind of thing that
makes a Catholic cleric's hair stand on end. But Bergoglio reacted
"Luro talked to me at length about her friend [Bergoglio], of
whom she has the highest opinion, and told me how she would write
to him almost weekly, and he would always reply by ringing her up
and having a short chat. When Podestá was dying, Bergoglio was the
only Catholic cleric who went to visit him in hospital, and, when
he died, the only one who showed public recognition of his great
contribution to the Argentinian Church."
THIS was not as startling as the best quote in Dominic Lawson's
long interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury for the Sunday
Times magazine. It contained nice moments of Anglican
"So you believe in the resurrection of the body? 'Yes.'
"So you believe that if things work out well, we're going to be
up there, in some way physically incorporated? 'We will have a
corporeal existence after death, yes.'
"You really believe that? 'Well, it's what the Creed says. I can
say the Creed without crossing my fingers.'
"I tell the archbishop that I find it very difficult to be-
lieve such a thing.
"'I find it very difficult. Join the club.'"
It also contains the Archbishop's first recorded flash of anger,
at the memory of Bishop Jack Spong's supposedly saying that African
Christians are one generation removed from barbarism. I find it
hard to see Bishop Spong as a racist, though he is undoubtedly
convinced of America's mission civilatrice. But this was
as nothing to Welby's long quote about his father:
"Charming, volatile, unpredictable. You never knew what was
going to happen. The experience of living with a parent who had a
drink problem is . . . very shaping as to one's views of what human
beings are like. And later it's very complicated when you discover
[through the press] a lot of things you didn't know about them. . .
For example, that he had been married before, that his name wasn't
Welby. Quite basic things."
I can't think of another public figure who could say such things
to a journalist with so little drama or self-pity.