Assessing the new Pope's past transgressionsby Hugh OShaughnessy / August 6, 2013 / Leave a comment
The announcement in March that Jorge Mario Bergoglio was to become the new pope was almost too much for some of us to bear. It was surely a coup de grace for the hopes of a billion or so Catholics, dominated, regimented, patronised and on occasion fleeced by wily clerics in Rome as the latter went about feathering their own baroque and rococo nests in the Eternal City and letting the poor go hang.
Now Paul Vallely, best known for his contributions to the Independent, has done us all a favour by setting out in a masterful way and with no little expertise the career of the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires, now bishop of Rome in all its chiaroscuro. Vallely’s biography, Pope Francis: Untying the Knots was published last month by Bloomsbury. One hopes that his optimistic view of the authoritarian pontiff will be borne out by the Argentine’s conduct and that he will turn out to be the talented but humble man that the Vatican’s public relations men rushed to present him as.
The new Pope’s appointment was surely the end of the expectations which John XXIII, the son of peasants and a wise, holy and great man, had ignited when he called the Second Vatican Council to breath new life into a limping institution in the 1960s. John’s successors—the temporiser Paul, the brief John Paul I, the all too permanent Pole John Paul II, hammer of modernisers and Liberation Theologians and Russophobe guardian angel of the White House and the State Department—had all done what they could to abort Vatican II. After an unexplained resignation by Joseph Ratzinger who had occupied the papal throne in a halting but wobbly manner since 2005 how had the cardinal-electors sitting in conclave in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican gone so far out of their minds to choose an Argentine cleric as the latest Servant of the Servants of God?
Had they had no idea that Argentine Catholicism which I observed on the spot over the decades at first hand stank in the nostrils of many in Latin America and beyond? After all it had produced little original thought, its leaders the bishops were enthusiastically supportive of the drive by the Vatican to bury the last elements of Vatican II. Successive archbishops and cardinals had shrugged when a series of officers of the armed forces—who were as politically inept as they were cowardly, corrupt and incompetent—tortured and murdered priests, nuns and members of the faithful. The drugged bodies of some of them were thrown out of planes over the River Plate. Victims of Argentine terror included at least one local bishop Enrique Angelelli, who favoured trade unions and who was murdered by the military in a fake road accident in his diocese of La Rioja.