Dirty War, Dirty Church

The Church behaved appallingly badly – Robert Cox, editor of the Buenos Aires Herald which stood up to the Argentine military dictatorship in the 1970s.

President Michael D Higgins earlier this week in Rome attended the inauguration of Pope Francis. He was among many heads of state who turned up for the occasion, an event of global significance.

President Higgins has a long history of human rights activism and advocacy, much of is associated with Latin America where Pope Francis punched in the hours as a cardinal in the city of Buenos Aires.  When in October last year he visited Argentina he unveiled a plaque on the anniversary of the detention of Patrick and Fatima Rice. Both were kidnapped and tortured by the military six months after the Videla led coup. Pressure from the Irish government eventually led to their release. Patrick Rice had been a Roman Catholic priest working as a missionary in the country. Upon his release he worked tirelessly for the disappeared. 

Earlier on the same visit President Higgins visited Chile’s Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago where he met Jean Turner Jara, the widow of the Chilean folk singer and political activist Víctor Jara. The singer was tortured then killed in the days immediately after the September 1973 coup. A poem written by Michael D Higgins, The Wall, had been composed in honour of Jara.

During the ceremony the President recited some of the works of Jara while stating that it was  “immoral and deeply offensive” to tell the victims of torture and the families who had lost loved ones to Pinochet to let things rest and move on. ‘There are things that must never be allowed to be forgotten.’ Jara’s widow agreed, saying ‘I am 85 years old and I want to know what happened to Víctor before I die.’

Given the sentiment expressed by Michael D Higgins he must have wondered if it was a halo or a dark cloud that hovered above the head of the current pope. The latter has been referred to, albeit without substantive evidence to back it up, in some circles as the Dirty War Pope. While there are two competing narratives currently developing around the stance adopted by the pope when he was head of the Jesuits in Argentina, the current evidence seeems to suggest that while he remained stum during serious human rights violations he did not collaborate with the regime in the way that the Church hierarchy most certainly did.

Yet the allegations continue to stain the character of this pope. It would be surprising were it any other way. In 1997 it was reported that ‘many scholars say the issue will remain an open sore on the society for many decades to come.’  It is claimed that hardly a day passes where there is not some former member of the regime being subject to court hearings for human rights abuses. ‘More than 600 have been convicted of charges including torture, the theft of babies, illegal arrests and murder.’

The latest uproar about the pope cannot be dismissed as lightly as the Vatican might wish on the grounds that it is some lefty conspiracy to attack the Church. 27 years ago lawyer Emilio Mignone, who ‘was regarded as Argentina's best-known campaigner for human rights, particularly from 1976 to 1983, when the country was under military rule’, and whose own daughter was disappeared, was raising questions about the role of Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Mignone believed that Bergoglio was one of the 'pastors who turned their sheep over to the enemy without defending them or rescuing them.’

Bergoglio may not have put a foot wrong in terms of complicity with a murderous military but his position of seniority in a Dirty Church at ease with a Dirty War has left an odour that it will take more than incense to shift.


  1. I know next to nothing about this new pope nor if I,m honest do I want to,but one thing that sticks out to me is that this man and his predecessor were both involved in some way with human rights abuse of the most horrendous kind ie., mass murder.one an ex nazi, the new boy on the block either facilitated or used a Nelson eye,is it not possible to find a pope among that shower who does not come with some sort of baggage,it seems not!

  2. So Twitter is 7 years old,Now I see why the catholic church has taken an interest in it recently,I,ve been watching re -runs of the new pope getting chosen,but didnt get the whole white or black smoke routine,so I asked my catholic mate Jimmy.I get it now...the white smoke means that they have picked a new one,the black smoke means that they are still burning his hard drive..

  3. Mackers,
    I think our latest Pontiff got the job based, on more of the same rather than difference
    Rigid conservatism will not allow for anyone who would even blink in the direction of reform. A people's person ??? whatever that's supposed to mean, he will remain constricted and restricted.
    In relation to Michael Higgins, just wondering how much of the human rights abuse in his own country is recorded in poetry! Or is it as Sean Bres rightly said, they are happy to fight everyone else's corner whilst ignoring abuse in their own.

  4. Most of the accusations against this Pope and his role during the Dirty War is based on 'it is beieved that' and not on hard evidence....even those who he apparently betrayed and turned away from when detained have come out to deny this (although that could be down to pressure from other quarters within the church).
    It is said that mud sticks. I suppose another way to look at it is, who among us would have allowed Michael Jackson to baby sit our kids?!!!??!??

  5. Why the big outcry now. Surely if people were'nt just out to slate the RC church they's dave been campaigning on this issue before now?

    Nature of people and politics generally, if something good befalls someone, crucify them or try to ruin it. Why don't some of these 'academic heroes' piss-off out to Argentina and do a PHD on the disappeared today, if they are so brave as to judge people from the safety of decades later and a hemosphere distant?

  6. It is not unreasonable to raise questions about Bergoglio, not least because the Vatican is selling him as a man of the people, what better way to serve the people than speaking out when a government is murdering them. They are also claiming he is a priest who does not behave in an orthodox manner.

    What ever evidence exists or does not, it is a fact Bergoglio was in a position of power during the Junta and he failed to speak out. The head of the Junta has publicly said they had a close relationship with the Catholic church and kept them informed about their plans.

    This has nothing to do with Mr Bergoglio personal courage, as due to his rank back then no matter whatever he said he was a protected species. The Military were looking for friends in high places and were never going to take on Rome by imprisoning or murdering a senior jesuit.

    I would guess, at best he failed to speak out because he new the church supported the Junta, and at worst he thought the lefties had it coming to them. Besides, this is a man who has never done anything which would have been detrimental to his career.

    He was in a leading position and had a duty to speak out, as some catholics priests did, he chose not to and to my mind that makes him unfit to occupy any leadership position.

    He is a man of powerful elites not a man of the people, simply more of the same.

  7. I feel a lot less personal 'distaste' for the new pontif than I do towards the likes of Donaldson, scap, McGuinness, Liam+Gerry Adams, along with the McCartneys and Morrisons of this world getting convictions quashed. Smething extremely slimey about ALL of the latter. The new pontif may have done little, but what those guys closer to home were up to beggars belief!

  8. Are we supposed to believe everything we read?. do we all believe that everything written in the Bible is true?, especially the King James Bible?.

    Do any of you believe this crap.

    Desmond de Silva Report

    a mixture of No collusion , whilst the facts are in front of his own eyes, this guy has his sights on plenty of "SILVER".

  9. Organised Rage

    The RC church backs all those in power until the tide turns overwhelmingly against them. It's the M.O.

    This was the case with the Brits in Ireland when the RC church excommunicated IRA men and Cardinal Cullen advocated Catholic expansion within the British Empire not opposition to it. The church then stepped in at the end after 1916 and went with the flow setting up its own dictatorship with rosary beads.

    They did the same with Nazi Germany. A prominent Jesuit would have likely given (and possibly still) no Latin America Junta sleepless nights were he disappeared. Just my opinion/assessment.

    The RC church does what it says on the tin. Builds an empire out of selling an impossible dream, wee bit like the USA, perhaps that's why they like each other so much?

  10. Larry,

    the people making the running live in Argentina, have been complaining for years, some were themselves kidnapped and tortured.

  11. Mackers

    Just to clarify, I meant 'academics' as abstract not any one in particular. Personally the thought of going snooping around any latin American country diggin for dirt would give me nightmares. Digging ones own grave more like.

    I'm not up to speed with the details of latin American USA backed death squads and juntas. But after my experiences here and the little bit of light cast on the evil that went on in front of our own eyes,I'll enjoy the food, weather and vino when I venture to the likes of Argentina or Chile and keep my gob shut on political issues.

    I immagine top SF scoundrals and 'RA 'heavyweights' talked some crap to visiting politicos in their day. Then reported it all to their handlers! Get my drift? What the hell do we know?

    If you thought there was a personal 'barb' to my comment I assure you otherwise. But should you consider venturing to latin America to investigate and 'pontificate' may I suggest you bin the notion. I'd miss you terribly (and the Quill) but not enough to go searching for your sad arse!

  12. Larry,

    I didn't see a single thing in your comment as personal. I wasn't making a case against the pope in any event. I merely outline the case. I don't think he was complicit with the military. The evidence is not there. It just seemed a strange comment coming from you who had already written a fine piece on Malaysia in which you demonstrated a good understanding of the issues.

    I would like to go to Buenos Aires. Strangely enough I expressed the wish to so while on the Blanket. But then I would also like to go to Stalingrad and Kigali, knowing I most likely never will. They are so steeped in history. I was in Coventy at the weekend and couldn't help but think about the particular history of that city. The IRA bombed it as well as the Germans!

  13. AM

    I am probably peeeing in the wind. But I just recon if this Pope is setting himself up as a man of the poor at least give him enough rope to hang himself before wading in.

    Places like the Philippines with their still wedged-full chapels could do with some easing-up and assistance socially.

    Stalingrad would have been on my 'bucket-list' too. But unlikely to happen. The Nazi gas chambers were on it, but Israel has deminished much of my natural instinct towards empathy there. Not removed it totally but removed any desire to make the effort to travel there. Maybe I'll go with a Palastinian fleg, that might motivate me.

    Always wanted to see the great marvels the Irish created/built during their first hundred years of independence, but I wont see the needle on my way to the airport via the motorway they bulldozed through Tara. It will be the great wall of China, Hong Kong, Vietnam most likely. Then a good steak in Argentina keeping my head down lol.

    As for Coventry, if it hadn't been for the likes of my granda at Dunkirk and D-DAY the Brits would be talkin German today after enduring the same evil as they did to us. Don't have much empathy there either I'm afraid. Indifferent.

  14. Anthony as for the ra bombing Coventry "as well as the Germans" na a cara I think the Germans did a far better job.

  15. Larry/Marty,

    I know sympathy and empathy like much else is not a finite resource. Yet it still jolts me to see people express indifference to the fate of others who are basically no better or worse than our own families and who underwent tremendous cruelty. I know it is hard to empathise with torturers and bullies when they meet their fate no matter what we say about human rights but so many innocent get caught up in things like the bombing of Coventry. It seems that is a war crime just like Dresden albeit on a lesser scale.

  16. I agree that mass bombing of civilians in places like Coventry and Dresden are war crimes a cara,so how much more brutal,immoral never mind illegal that in a more enlightened age must have been the carpet bombing of places in Vietnam like Hanoi,napalm and agent orange dropped on innocent people and their crops in countless abundance,this week we hear that the Syrian regime has resorted to using chemical weapons,the Israeli state which knows all about torture and oppression does not blink an eye on using the same tactics on the Palestinian people and America and England are among the worlds largest munitions exporters or masters of death,these states have learned nothing from the past other than to continue to build bigger bombs a cara,it really is a pity that Dresden and Coventry were not declared war crimes,it may have saved countless lives.

  17. Those countries who claim to have saved the world from fascism in 1945 turned out to be much the same. The UK has only been at 'peace' during one single year since WW2, 1967.

    49 nations invaded by the Brits and amazingly ALL the locals turned out to be 'terrorists'.

    As I say, I'm indifferent to their fate in the UK, especially when Thatcher was the most unpopular PM in history and instigated the Malvinas conflict after which she became the most popular. Gives us an insight into the psyche of the GB public.

    Although on the bright side, they have become world leaders in prosthetic limbs for the endless number of mangled teenagers returning from their wars. Every village in Britain must have a few wee cripples by now.

  18. Anthony,

    'I was in Coventry at the weekend and couldn't help but think about the particular history of that city.'

    Did you get a chance to visit the remains of the bombed out remains of Coventry Cathedral? Did you see the tomb of Bishop Huyshe Wolcott Yeatman-Biggs?

  19. Robert,

    it was suggested to me that I try to see the cathedral but my whole time there was effectively taken up at a conference. As soon as it finished I headed to the airport. The only thing I really got to see was the hotel, the university and an Indian restaurant.

  20. Anthony,

    A Tikka Masala I trust?

    I have been to the cathedral twice. I was amazed to find on my first visit that around the band of the Bishops mitre are three swastikas. While I realise the symbol is religious in origin the irony was striking.

  21. Robert,

    a mixture of everything which we all dipped into. Tikka was in the mix. My favourite Indian dish by the way. The cathedral sounds more interesting by the day. Will make a point of getting there should I go back

  22. I visited Coventry cathedral in the early 1970s at about 8 yrs old. Just before my grada died defending catholic houses from ulster nazis in 1974. There wasn't much to see in Coventry.

  23. AM/Robert

    couldn't resist that wee comment in the middle of your speed-dating transcript there.

  24. Larry,

    I could believe all you said except for your claim to have been 8 in the 1970s. Tolerant as I am such a blatant distortion of the truth poses problems even for this blog!

  25. Robert a cara I was working in a Indian doctors house a few years ago, as you crossed the you could clearly see the tiny bare feet and a swastika on the threshold, being an inquisitive fucker asked the question,the good lady doc told me it was an old Hindu symbol meaning good fortune is to come into the house,as you know the swastika was a symbol used by the Romans and many others throughout history and hijacked by the nazis,if you look carefully at the wood paneling in Stormont you can make out the swastika there also,

  26. Agh Mackers amego, jealousy will get you nowhere it is a simple fact of life some of us age much better than others. 1963 was the year I arrived so sorry to disappoint! Though my mrs recons I look so young I could have been 8 in the 80s. aaagh life is good.

  27. AM-

    " I would like to go to Buenos Aires-Stalingrad-Kigali "-

    No point going there or anywhere just for a conference-can you not do what i do-book yourself into the conference then go outside to explore the place-
    A plane i was on stopped in Romina for a few days-after a bus for a few hours i was in a strange town-after walking a few streets i seen the guinness sign-i walked into home- Ireland is the only country that has a place/site in every other country-in every other town in the world-


    "If it hadn't been for the likes of my granda at Dunkirk "

    He fought whilst the rest of them fcuks ran for it- TRA- they ran away-

  28. Michaelhenry

    You are correct. The Royla Ulster Riffles and a Scottish regiment were ordered to fight to the last man while the evacuation was organised from Dunkirk beaches. Churchill hoped to get 45,000 men back across the channel. French officers who copped on the Brits were abandoning them were shot by English troops. We don't get that info on the history channel.

    In the event 250,000 were rescued/scarpered. Who in their right mind wants to be loyal to khantz like the English? I told an English friend in Derry he should visit my granda's grave and thank him he doesn't speak German like we speak English.

    The zero sum politics of norn iron means articulate people like Robert will continue prefering to be anything (nothing?) rather than Irish.

  29. Michaelhenry,

    I guess I just liked the conference. But of course there have been times when I resorted to your strategy