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