“Power is born of confidence, not with manipulation, intimidation or with arrogance.”
— Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, 2006.
The choice of Pope Francis, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, has dismayed those hoping for a younger pontiff, who they say would be willing to reform the church on homosexuality, priesthood for women and other key issues. Photo: ALESSANDRO BIANCHI/REUTERS
By Silvina Frydlewsky and Anthony Faiola
The Washington Post
This is the side of the new pope “that he doesn’t talk about,” said Horacio Verbitsky, an Argentine journalist and author of “The Silence,” a book chronicling complacency — and worse — during the Dirty War.
Yet Pope Francis, who has strongly denied those allegations, also has defenders who say that he not only resisted the military but also actively helped those seeking sanctuary.
“There were bishops who were complicit in the dictatorship,” Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Argentine human rights activist, told the BBC’s Spanish-language service on Thursday. “But not Bergoglio.”
Taking on the Kirchners
Whatever his role in that chapter of Argentine history, his political role in a country polarized between President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s government and a beleaguered opposition became a central theme here a day after Bergoglio was named pope. Bergoglio, observers say, has not been shy about energetically taking on the president or her predecessor and late husband, Néstor Kirchner.
“It was never a good relation,” said Oscar Aguad, a deputy in Argentina’s congress from the opposition Radical party. “There were scraps between Bergoglio and the Kirchner governments, to the point where Nestor Kirchner even said that Bergoglio was the head of the opposition.”
Tensions between Bergoglio and the Kirchners increased during the 2000s as the couple began to guide Argentina out of an economic collapse. The Kirchners rode a wave of popularity, which critics say they used to intervene in the economy and adopt a take-no-prisoners approach to the opposition and the press. Eventually, they tussled with the Roman Catholic Church.
Observers in Argentina said Bergoglio did not act in opposition to the Kirchners’ stated goal of reducing poverty; in fact, Bergoglio emerged during the peak of the Argentine economic crisis of 2000 as a fierce critic of globalization. Rather, he was simply not shy about exposing what some critics of the government call its mendacity in reporting economic data. The church waded into this thicket not with a direct attack but by issuing its own poverty figures showing that the number of poor people was much higher than the Kirchners asserted.
“When Bergoglio talked of extreme poverty, or of the kids who are among the army of drug addicts, the government felt it was under attack because they’re in charge of anti-narcotics efforts, social programs and health care,” said Oscar Raúl Aguad, a lawmaker who opposed the Kirchners’ programs.
Bergoglio also took to using his high-profile sermons on May 25, Argentina’s Revolution Day, to deliver critiques of the Peronist leaders, some of which were carefully worded but nonetheless angered the nation’s most influential power couple.
“Power is born of confidence, not with manipulation, intimidation or with arrogance,” Bergoglio said in 2006.
Carlos Fara, a political analyst and pollster, said part of the tension stemmed from the fact that Bergoglio hailed from a more moderate form of Peronism — the uniquely Argentine brand of nationalist politics founded by Juan Peron — than the Kirchners, who leaned toward the left of the party’s spectrum. That also included an increasingly secular agenda.
After Bergoglio’s selection as pope, Kirchner issued a statement saying she hoped his move to Rome as Pope Francis — a name she said she thought came from St. Francis of Assisi, who gave up earthly wealth — would bring the “option of the poor” closer to the “hierarchy” of the church.
Tension over social issues
But perhaps not surprisingly, the most-bitter tussles between Bergoglio and the government revolved around social issues. In 2010, Argentina became the first country in Latin America to approve a marriage law that gave same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual ones. The church opposed the government head-on, and tensions flared.
Bergoglio, considered the most prominent opponent of the government’s effort to approve the law, also was criticized for warning that the law amounted to an “intention to destroy God’s plan.”
“Today the media are building this image of him as the humble pope,” said Andrea D’Atri, founder of Bread and Roses, a human rights group, who is critical of Bertoglio’s opposition to gay rights. “In Argentina, his naming as pope has been received with the warmest enthusiasm by the rightist opposition.”
The church, too, was not averse to the bare-knuckles politics of the kind that’s common in Argentina. When a regional Peronist governor and Kirchner ally was seeking to alter locals laws to extend his term in office in 2007, Cardinal Bergoglio, according to leaked U.S. cables, added his voice to the opposition. He backed a coalition that included Catholic Church leaders, seeking to block what appeared to be a Peronist grab for power in the northern province of Misiones.
On Thursday in Argentina, Bergoglio was also being remembered for his work with the poor, central to the Jesuits’ work in Latin America.
The Argentine press recounted how he washed the feet of a dozen AIDS patients in 2001, and how he sharply criticized priests who had refused to baptize the newborns of unmarried mothers. Photographs of Bergoglio riding the subway were also published in Thursday’s newspapers.
Pope Benedict XVI, right, washes the foot of an unidentified priest during the Holy Thursday rite of the washing of feet in St. John in Lateran Basilica in Rome on Thursday, April 21, 2011. Pope Benedict XVI washes the feet of a dozen priests in a Holy Thursday ceremony to symbolize humility. Photo by Alessandro Bianchi, Associated Press
Those who knew Bergoglio remember a kind and sometimes precocious boy. Amalia Damonte, 77, said her home was barely 100 feet from where Jose Maria Bergoglio, the new pope’s father, was raising four children. She remembers playing with Jorge Mario and how he at one point declared his love for her.
“He left me a letter with a photograph at my house that said this house you see here will be ours when we get married,” she rcalled. Her parents, who found the letter, weren’t pleased and she told Jorge Mario.
He retorted: “If you can’t marry me then I’ll become a priest,” she said.
At the Our Lady of Mercy, a school where the new pope had his first communion, Rosa Blanco, 90, still remembers Bergoglio and the neighborhood in which he grew up, Flores.
He was “calm, fun, like all boys,” and had been a good friend of her brother.
Another woman who knew him, Elsa Scigliano, 70, said she recalled when the future pope caused a minor uproar. “He played in the street,” she said. “One time, playing football, he broke a window of a neighbor’s house. He went to say he was sorry. He always apologized.”
At Our Lady of Mercy, a Sister Teresa del Carmen Rovira, who oversees preschool education, like others there on Thursday spoke of the important dates of Bergoglio’s early life. She noted that he took First Communion on Oct. 8, 1944. And she said that the teachers and administrators there were always excited when he returned.
“He always came, asked what we wanted, made us feel better, so we would take the happiness of God to the people,” said Sister Teresa.
She recalled how before he traveled to Rome recently, he had said that he would go and return in time to celebrate Holy Week.
“Well,” Sister Teresa said, “I guess now he’ll do it in Rome.”
But if Bergoglio’s critics contend that if he was quick to rally against progressive social moments and populist leftist leaders, he was less inclined to rebuke the right-wing junta that fell after the 1983 war with Britain over the Falkland Islands.
People quoted in Verbitsky’s book assert that during the Dirty War, Bergoglio, then a Jesuit leader, pressured two clerics in his order to cease their leftist teachings in a Buenos Aires slum. The book says that a decision to lift the order’s protection of the two men — Orlando Yorio and Franz Jalics — allowed the military to detain them at the Navy Mechanics School prison, the Army’s most notorious, for five months of deprivation.
“I have no reason to believe he did anything to free us, in fact just the opposite,” Verbitzky quoted Yorio as saying of Bergoglio.
Yorio died in Uruguay in 2000. Jalics, now 85 and living in seclusion with a religious order in Germany, was on retreat Thursday and could not be reached for comment.
But supporters of Bergoglio contend that the new pope did his best during a dangerous time in Argentina and risked his own life to aid those in danger.
“He disagreed with two Jesuits that had been taken because they wanted to take the way of violence and arms,” said Mario Aguilar, a Chilean theologian at Britain’s University of St. Andrews. “ He said that we are not going to be guerrillas or revolutionaries, because we are priests. He could not have done otherwise. The idea that he was complacent is a misunderstanding he was under immense pressure under the military junta and the church.”
Faiola reported from Rome. Juan Forero in Charleston, W.Va., Michael Birnbaum in Berlin and Eliza Mackintosh in London contributed to this report.
Published March 14, 2013
March 14, 2013: In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis celebrates his inaugural Mass with cardinals, inside the Sistine Chapel, at the Vatican. (AP)
March 14, 2013: Newly elected Pope Francis I, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, makes a private visit to the 5th-century Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, in a photo released by Osservatore Romano in Rome. Pope Francis, barely 12 hours after his election, quietly left the Vatican early on Thursday to pray for guidance as he looks to usher a Roman Catholic Church mired in intrigue and scandal into a new age of simplicity and humility. (Reuters)
Earlier Thursday, Francis stopped by his hotel to pick up his luggage and pay the bill himself and praying at Rome’s main basilica dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
He entered the St. Mary Major basilica through a side entrance just after 8 a.m. and left about 30 minutes later.
“He spoke to us cordially, like a father,” Father Ludovico Melo, a priest who prayed with Pope Francis, told Reuters. “We were given 10 minutes’ advance notice that the pope was coming.”
After becoming the first pontiff from the Americans, Francis had told a crowd of some 100,000 people packed in rain-soaked St. Peter’s Square just after his election that he intended to pray Friday to the Madonna “that she may watch over all of Rome.”
Bergoglio chose the name Francis, drawing connections to the humble 13th-century saint who saw his calling as trying to rebuild the church in a time of turmoil.
Benedict’s longtime aide, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, accompanied Francis to the visit Thursday morning at St. Mary Major. In addition to being Benedict’s secretary, Gaenswein is also the prefect of the papal household and will be arranging the new pope’s schedule.
Like many Latin American Catholics, Francis has a particular devotion to the Virgin Mary, and his visit to the basilica was a reflection of that. He prayed before a Byzantine icon of Mary and the infant Jesus, the Protectress of the Roman People.
“He had a great devotion to this icon of Mary and every time he comes from Argentina he visits this basilica,” said one of the priests at the basilica, the Rev. Elio Montenero. “We were surprised today because he did not announce his visit.”
He then went into the main altar area of the basilica and prayed before relics of the manger in Bethlehem where Jesus is said to have been born — an important pilgrimage spot for Jesuits.
Members of his flock were charmed Thursday when Francis stopped by the Vatican-owned residence where he routinely stays during visits to Rome.
The Rev. Pawel Rytel-Andrianek, who teaches at the nearby Pontifical Holy Cross University and is staying at the residence, said he didn’t just come to get his luggage, noting that anyone could have come to get his suitcases.
“He wanted to come here because he wanted to thank the personnel, people who work in this house,” he said. Francis met with the staff in the dining room. “He greeted them one by one, no rush, the whole staff, one by one,” Rytel-Andrianek said, noting that the pope knew everyone by name.
“People say that he never in these 20 years asked for a (Vatican) car,” he said. “Even when he went for the conclave with a priest from his diocese, he just walked out to the main road, he picked up a taxi and went to the conclave. So very simple for a future pope.”
Francis has also spoken by phone with Benedict, who became the first pope to resign in 600 years and has been living at the papal retreat in Castel Gandolfo. Francis was expected to visit him this week, but a Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Thomas Rosica, said Francis wouldn’t make the trip to Castel Gandolfo on Thursday, and probably wouldn’t go Friday, either.
The visit is significant because Benedict’s resignation has raised concerns about potential power conflicts emerging from the peculiar situation of having a reigning pope and a retired one.
As the long-time archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis has spent nearly his entire career at home in Argentina, overseeing churches and shoe-leather priests. In choosing a 76-year-old pope, the cardinals clearly decided that they didn’t need a vigorous, young pope who would reign for decades but rather a seasoned, popular and humble pastor who would draw followers to the faith and help rebuild a church stained by scandal.
Groups of supporters waved Argentine flags Wednesday night in St. Peter’s Square as Francis, wearing simple white robes, made his first public appearance as pope.
Chants of “Long live the pope!” arose from the throngs of faithful, many with tears in their eyes. Crowds went wild as the Vatican and Italian military bands marched through the square and up the steps of the basilica, followed by Swiss Guards in silver helmets and full regalia.
Francis appeared on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica just after a church official announced “Habemus Papum” — “We have a pope” — and gave Bergoglio’s name in Latin.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, good evening,” he said to wild cheers before making a reference to his roots in Latin America, which accounts for about 40 percent of the world’s Roman Catholics.
Francis asked for prayers for himself, and for retired Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, whose resignation paved the way for the conclave that brought the first Jesuit to the papacy.
“You know that the work of the conclave is to give a bishop to Rome,” Francis said. “It seems as if my brother cardinals went to find him from the end of the earth. Thank you for the welcome.”
Bergoglio has shown a keen political sensibility as well as the kind of self-effacing humility that fellow cardinals value highly, according to his official biographer, Sergio Rubin. He showed that humility on Wednesday, saying that before he blessed the crowd he wanted their prayers for him and bowed his head.
“Good night, and have a good rest,” he said before going back into the palace.
In a lifetime of teaching and leading priests in Latin America, which has the largest share of the world’s Catholics, Francis has been known for modernizing an Argentine church that had been among the most conservative in Latin America.
Like other Jesuit intellectuals, Bergoglio has focused on social outreach. Catholics are still buzzing over his speech last year accusing fellow church officials of hypocrisy for forgetting that Jesus Christ bathed lepers and ate with prostitutes.
Francis, the son of middle-class Italian immigrants, is known as a humble man who denied himself the luxuries that previous Buenos Aires cardinals enjoyed. Bergoglio often rode the bus to work, cooked his own meals and regularly visited the slums that ring Argentina’s capital.
He came close to becoming pope in 2005, reportedly gaining the second-highest vote total in several rounds of voting before he bowed out of the running in the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI.
American Cardinal Timothy Dolan gave an inside glimpse into the drama of the conclave in his talk at the American seminary.
When the tally reached the necessary 77 votes to make Bergoglio pope, Dolan said, the cardinals erupted in applause. And when he accepted the momentous responsibility thrust upon him — ”there wasn’t a dry eye in the place,” Dolan recounted.
After the princes of the church had congratulated the new pope one by one, other Vatican officials wanted to do the same, but Francis preferred to go outside and greet the throngs of faithful. ”Maybe we should go to the balcony first,” Dolan recalled the pope as saying.
Elected on the fifth ballot, Francis was chosen in one of the fastest conclaves in years, remarkable given there was no clear front-runner going into the vote and that the church had been in turmoil following the upheaval unleashed by Benedict’s surprise resignation.
For comparison’s sake, Benedict was elected on the fourth ballot in 2005 — but he was the clear front-runner going into the vote. Pope John Paul II was elected on the eighth ballot in 1978 to become the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.
In choosing to call himself Francis, the new pope was linking himself with the much-loved Italian saint from Assisi associated with peace, poverty and simplicity. St. Francis was born to a wealthy family but later renounced his wealth and founded the Franciscan order of friars; he wandered about the countryside preaching to the people in very simple language.
He was so famed for his sanctity that he was canonized just two years after his death in 1226.
Francis will be installed officially as pope on Tuesday, on the feast of St. Joseph, patron saint of the universal church, according to Vatican spokesman Lombardi.
Lombardi, also a Jesuit, said he was particularly stunned by the election given that Jesuits typically shun positions of authority in the church, instead offering their work in service to those in power.
But Lombardi said that in accepting the election, Francis must have felt it “a strong call to service,” an antidote to all those who speculated that the papacy was about a search for power.
In an interesting twist the Jesuits were expelled from all of the Americas in the mid-18th century. Now, a Latin American Jesuit has been elected head of the 1.2-billion strong Catholic Church.
By Mike Lupica
Right away you hear that the new Pope, at 76, is too old for the job, too old to do something great for the Catholic Church, or find greatness in himself. The idea is only dumber than the famous red granite of St. Peter’s Square.
The best and most modern Pope we have had, John XXIII, was 77 when elected in 1958. He was supposed to be the kind of stopgap Pope that Benedict XVI was before he stepped aside last month. All John produced over the next five years was the Second Vatican Council, which only brought more important change to the Church than anything that had happened for a couple of hundred years.
One of his successors later called John XXIII a “holy old boy,” and he was all that as he did more than anybody had ever done to bring the Catholic Church — late — into the 20th century, from allowing the Mass to be said in languages other than Latin to empowering bishops around the world, to humanizing the Church and making it more available than any modern Pope ever had. And less rigid and arrogant.
He was beatified later, in 2000. It wasn’t only for the enlightened thinking he brought to Vatican City until his death in 1963. It was for his immense humanity, and his ability to make the rest of the world see the best in the Church and not just the worst.
Maybe it happens that way now. Not bad priests being the face of the Church, but this good man from Argentina.
“I understand the attention the nastiness gets,” Father Pete Colapietro of Holy Cross Church, off Times Square, New York City, is saying Thursday. “And nastiness should absolutely be exposed. But what has to start happening again is for the good parts of the Catholic Church to be broadcast as well. I pray for this man to do that.”
The Archdiocese of New York sent Timothy Cardinal Dolan to the Vatican for this vote. Dolan should have brought along Father Pete Colapietro, who would have at least brought some fun to the thing between votes. He has been a star priest of his city for a long time, and one of the smartest people I have ever known talking about the Catholic Church.
“This thing about his age is a nonissue,” he says. “Come on. You know what happens when you try to make age a job-related issue in this country? You get sued, that’s what happens. The idea that some people immediately want to disqualify this man because of his age is just dead wrong.”
Now he is the one talking about John XXIII, how nobody saw him coming, how he went back inside after he was the one introducing himself to the world and eventually made history for himself and for his Church.
“You read back on him, what people were saying,” Colapietro says. “Mostly what they said was the guy was supposed to be gone. And all he did was open up the windows and let the Church breathe again.”
Then Father Colapietro says, “Everybody has talked about all the firsts: First from the Americas, first Jesuit, even first Francis. You gotta admit, that is a lot of firsts. It makes you think maybe there might be a new way of looking at things.”
You want this Pope to be less judgmental on same-sex unions. You want the Church to at least open the door someday to the possibility of nuns becoming priests, ask itself why smart, holy women could not handle the responsibilities of the priesthood as well as any man.
Maybe there will come the day when this Pope will talk even more openly about the way the Church has looked the other way on pedophile priests. That way both Catholics and non-Catholics won’t think this conclave elected Pope Head in the Sand III or IV, depending on how you’ve kept score over the last 30 years.
But just what you know about the former Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio from the past day or so, you get a picture of someone who has never viewed himself as royalty, whose history makes you look at his compassion, especially for the poor, across a lifetime of service. It makes you see his humanity as well, and not just because he rides the bus sometimes.
“Bloomberg rides the bus, too,” Pete Colapietro says, and laughs.
In this 2008 photo, Argentina’s Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, second from left, travels on the subway in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Bergoglio, named pope on Wednesday, March 13, 2013, was known for … more In this 2008 photo, Argentina’s Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, second from left, travels on the subway in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Bergoglio, named pope on Wednesday, March 13, 2013, was known for taking the subway and mingling with the poor of Buenos Aires while archbishop. Bergoglio chose the name Pope Francis and is the first pope ever from the Americas. (AP Photo/Pablo Leguizamon)
Pope Francis won’t ever run the Church the way Mayor Bloomberg — 71 this year, by the way — sometimes tries to run New York. Theocracies don’t work that way. It doesn’t mean he is too old for forward thinking, just because no one ever is.
Lot of firsts for him, absolutely. Maybe there can be one more for the man from Buenos Aires. Maybe he can be the first Pope since another holy old boy his age to bring fresh air to the Roman Catholic Church.