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in this column from this morning's Washington Post.

By now increasing numbers of people are aware and demonstrating some concern for the role the then Jesuit Provincial supervisor played during Argentina's "Dirty War."  Robinson puts in bluntly at the beginning of his column:

They are impolite questions, but they must be asked: What did Jorge Mario Bergoglio know, and when did he know it, about Argentina’s brutal “Dirty War” against suspected leftists, in which thousands were tortured and killed? More important, what did the newly chosen Pope Francis do?
 The link goes to a Post story in which the new Pope's authorized biography argues that he took actions that saved lives.  Before returning to Robinson's column, and also in providing some of the context in which he writes, allow me to quote two paragraphs from that story:  
But others say Bergoglio’s rise through the Argentine church since then has put him in many positions of power where he could have done more to atone for the sins of Catholic officials who did actively conspire with the dictators. Some priests even worked inside torture centers, and blessed those doing the killing.

And now that Argentina is actively putting former dictatorship figures on trial for human rights violations, they say he’s been more concerned about preserving the church’s image than providing evidence that could lead to convictions.

Please keep reading.

I am going to push fair use a bit by quoting two long paragraphs from Robinson's column because they lay out starkly why the questions need in the minds of many to be fully addressed:  

The dictatorship in Argentina was the most savage of all. At least 10,000, and perhaps as many as 30,000, people suspected of leftist involvement were killed. Victims would be snatched from their homes or places of work, interrogated under torture for weeks or months, and then executed. Some were dispatched by being drugged, loaded into aircraft and shoved out into the wide Rio de la Plata or the Atlantic Ocean to drown.

The church in Argentina, however, was comparatively passive in the face of this horror — some would say complicit. Church leaders never confronted the military regime the way their counterparts in Chile did; nor did they encourage or even permit grass-roots activism at the parish level, as developed in Brazil. On the contrary, the church allowed Argentina’s ruling generals and admirals to cloak themselves in religiosity and claim that somehow, in their sinister rampage, they were serving God’s will.

It is worth noting, and Robinson does, that in its silence and even complicity in the atrocities of the dictatorship, the Argentinian Church was an anomaly in Latin America - in most cases church officials - and especially those in Bergoglio's Jesuit order - were in the forefront of opposition to the dictators, and often paid the price, for example in El Salvador.

Robinson goes through much of the history, in some detail.

He rightly acknowledges that led by the then Carindal Bergoglio, the Argentinian Church last year

issued a blanket apology for having failed to protect the church’s flock during the dictatorship. That the church was tragically remiss is no longer in question, if it ever was.
So even while welcoming the apology, one still has questions.

Why did it take so long to acknowledge the Church leadership's failings, particularly in a Church in which the Sacrament of Penance (confession and absolution) plays such an important part in the spirituality of the individual members?

Robinson is interested not so much in what the new Pope did or did not do during the dirty war - unlike some Prelates he did not collaborate openly with the dictators, but unlike others -  for example the martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador - neither did he openly oppose them.  He was in between these extremes. So, Robinson wonders, what if any lessons did he learn?

Robinson writes of Bergoglio, now Francis I, that

He disapproved, surely. He did what he could. But by his own admission, he didn’t try to change the world.
Why then does Robinson still have questions?  Perhaps that is addressed in his final 2 sentences:
Now he has more than the duty to lead 1.2 billion Catholics. He also has a chance to atone.
The Pope often speaks as a supposed moral leader on issues of importance in the world. We fully expect Francis I to maintain the church's conservative positions on abortion and gay rights issues like marriage equality (although as Cardinal Francis went further than most in his belief that condoms could be acceptable to prevent disease).  We certainly want his voice to carry all the power it can in matters of economic justice, of overcoming economic inequality, in not ignoring the needs of the poor.

That voice will have its power diminished so long as the Church does not FULLY acknowledge when its officials have acted in shameful ways.  The cooperation with the dictators is one case where atonement is warranted.  The world-wide coverup of abuse of children by priests and even prelates is surely another.  The financial entanglement of the Vatican with mobsters and corrupt financiers is yet another.

Of these three issues, Pope Francis has a direct connection with one.  He can well start by making a clear and public atonement for the Church's failure to stand on moral principle.

Read the Robinson column.  All of it.


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