By Elise Zimmerman
The Catholic Church’s new pope is, for the first time in history, from the Americas. After a brief, two-day Conclave, 76-year-old Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires was announced as the new leader of the faith. Pope Francis I, as he has chosen to be called, has been described as moderate, monk-like, and diplomatic. According to Reuters, he led a simple life, utilizing public transportation and residing in a simple apartment outside of Buenos Aires before moving to the Vatican.
Bergoglio is the first pope to come from the Jesuit order. After becoming a priest at the age of 32, he rose quickly among the Jesuits in his area, serving as their leader from 1973 to 1979. In spite of his success within the church, the new pope’s first years in power were marked also by Argentina’s “Dirty War” and military dictatorship.
As is common for those active in the church during the dictatorship, Bergoglio has received criticism for his failure to condemn the heinous crimes and human rights abuses that were common at the time. Despite Bergoglio’s public apology for the crimes committed during the dictatorship, Argentine journalist Horacio Verbitsky has suggested that Bergoglio downplayed the church’s collusion during the war.
Perhaps more serious, allegations have been made about Bergoglio’s involvement in the 1976 kidnapping of two Jesuit priests in Buenos Aires. According to another expository article by Verbitsky, the then-leader of the Argentine Jesuits approved the abduction of the bishops, who he believed were too progressive. Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics, the victims, were found five months after their disappearance, reportedly drugged and half naked.
Years after the end of the Dirty War, tension continues to follow the new pope. Since the beginning of the Kirchner administration in 2003, the relationship between Argentina’s federal government and Bergoglio has been strained. Beginning with the description by Bergoglio of the government’s “exhibitionism and strident government ads,” the rift between church and state only grew larger due to notable differences in values.
Tensions appeared to settle when the presidency was passed to the late Kirchner’s wife and current president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. However, the two sides clashed once more over the passage of same-sex marriage in July 2010. Shortly before the bill’s passage in congress, Bergoglio published a letter condemning the initiative. The letter was met by a response expressing alarm at the archbishop’s interpretation of the issue as a moral dilemma, rather than a “reality that is already.”
It appears some progress has been made, however, as the new pope entertained President Fernandez Monday, holding his first audience with a head of state. Ceremonial visits aside, there is still much to be desired in the relationship between Argentina and the new leader of the Catholic faith.
Despite the mounting criticism, Pope Francis’ history represents many of the themes faced by Latin Americans today: nations struggling to properly address the atrocities of abusive dictatorships, modernization versus traditional views of social issues, and the role of Catholicism in each nation are all relevant now both in Latin America and the Vatican.This post reflects the author’s personal opinions, not the opinions of Arizona Model United Nations.