Fernando Esteban LOZADA
Spokesperson of the IAFT
Today, great efforts are being made in the media to introduce the new pope as an individual capable of bringing a new breath of revival and change in the Roman Catholic Church, but, like Pope John Paul II, he is only a conservative, full of medieval ecclesiastical dogmas, with the same shortcomings as his predecessors but he knows how to shape strategically his public image.
Pope Francis is undoubtedly a regular and cunning Church leader, but he is in no means a Humanist involved towards the underprivileged classes.
He rapidly climbed up the professional ladder within the clergy, with ambition and shrewdness; he was able to become a “Provincial Superior” (the highest rank for the Jesuits) in Argentina in 1973, at the age of 37, and he held that position until 1979.
During that period, he managed to transfer of the Holy Savior University College (USAL), an estate belonging to the Jesuits, to an organization of laymen who were, like him, members of the Iron Guards, a Peronist, extreme Catholic, nationalist and rightwing faction, who were able to adopt a leftwing camouflage at some times at their own convenience. They had fluid contacts with military sectors in activity who were preparing the 1976 coup, notably with Admiral Emile Edouard Massera, a genocide perpetrator. After the military junta had taken power illegally on November 25, 1977, USAL ended the academic year by rewarding the dictator Massera with an “Honoris Causa” title. Bergoglio had something to do with this reward but he preferred not to be present at the ceremony and he sent a subordinate. Considering the vertical structure, almost military, of the Jesuit hierarchy, the vice-provincial certainly took part in the ceremony with his superior’s complete assent.
The USAL Declaration of Principles was written by Bergoglio in 1974. The document is titled “History and Change”. The text enumerates the three key-elements that guide the spirituality and the mission of the Holy Savior University College. The first element is “The Struggle against Atheism”: Atheism is clearly declared as the enemy to be knocked down. In 2009, I filed a complaint for discrimination against USAL and I won a favorable ruling by the National Institute against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism (INADI).
According to INADI, the text written by Francis “ascribes to atheism negative values, by using pejorative prejudice against its ideology, and by associating it to doctrines and regimes that led politics that proved harmful to humanity”. This document has been ratified by its author on various occasions until now, showing his contempt towards those who do not share the dominant vision of Catholicism.
On February 28, 1998, Bergoglio took up the position of archbishop of Buenos Aires and gained the title of Primate of Argentina. Being the archbishop of Buenos Aires, he became a member of the Bishops’ Conference of Argentina of which he became the president during two consecutive terms, from 2005 to November 2011, when he could no longer be re-elected one more time as the by-laws forbade it because of his age.
In December 2004, one of the most celebrated artists in Argentina, Leon Ferrari, with a remarkable international background, made a retrospective exhibition of 50 years of his works. A section of his works is a critical review of the bloodiest aspects of Christianity since its beginning until now, including during Argentinian dictatorships.
Bergoglio was the leader of what became a witch hunt, labeling the works as “blasphemy” in a widely spread pastoral letter. The effort of the Church to close down the exhibition was enormous, but participation of important people form society and an involved majority in the audience succeeded in avoiding censorship by the Catholic inquisition. Among other things, the letter signed by the Primate read: “Today, I apply to you, deeply hurt by the blasphemy which is being perpetrated at the Cultural Center of La Recoleta by an art exhibition. I am also grieved by the fact that this event is happening in a cultural center which survives thanks to the money of Christian people and the money that people of goodwill bring through their taxes.” The hypocrisy is obvious because, thanks to the dictatorship of the 1970’s, the bishops, including the Primate, receive huge salaries paid by the Argentinian State.
On November 8, 2002, Antonio Baseotto was appointed bishop for the armed forces. According to an agreement between the Holy See and the Republic of Argentina signed during the 1957 dictatorship, this position confers the official salary of an “Under-Secretary of State” to the incumbent. The bishop for the armed forces is appointed by the Holy See after the assent of the President of the Republic of Argentina. He is in charge of religious service in the Army, the Navy and the Air Force.
On February 18, 2005, Baseotto publicly attacked Nestor Kirchner’s governmental position in favor of decriminalization of abortion and the delivery of condoms to young people. He sent a threatening letter to the Minister of Health, Ginés González García, which read: “Those who scandalize children deserve to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around their necks”. That biblical quote evoked memories of the famous “death flights”. Let’s remember that the military putschists used to murder Left activists by throwing them alive out of a plane into the sea.
The government decided to dismiss Baseotto in March, 2005. Then Bergoglio said: “The Pope is the only person to appoint bishops in the Church”, meaning clearly that Baseotto could not be dismissed by the government and refusing to appoint a substitute. Once again, his unconditional loyalty to the Church appeared, with his commitment to genocide expressions and how he ignores a democratic government.
On October 9, 2007, Christian Fredrich von Wernich, a Catholic priest, was found guilty in 34 cases of illegal imprisonment, 31 cases of torture and 7 manslaughters; those crimes were perpetrated during the recent dictatorship in Argentina. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and banned from public services, as he was the chaplain of the Buenos Aires Province Police.
The Bishops’ Conference, under the archbishop of Buenos Aires Bergoglio’s presidency, as a means for the Church to escape liability, simply remarked the “commotion” of the Catholic Church caused by “a priest’s participation in serious crimes, according to the sentence of Justice”. With the current Pope’s silence and complicity in inaction, who washed his hands of the situation like Pontius Pilate, von Wernich is still included in the ranks of the Catholic Church, and he still conducts the Mass in prison without having received any type of sanction from the clergy.
On June 10, 2009, Julius Cesar Grassi, an Argentinian Catholic priest, paradoxically the founder of a foundation “Happy Children”, was found guilty in two cases of sex abuse and aggravated corruption against minors; he was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. During his trial, Grassi told a public media: “I talked to Cardinal Bergoglio and he told me, in the first place, that he had not let go my hand, as some in the press had said, and that he was on my side as always…” Later, the defendants, the prosecution and the concerned parties appealed the ruling, and on September 14, 2010, the Penal Cassation Court of Buenos Aires rejected the appeal and left the priest alone with the possibility to apply to extraordinary legal remedy. Until last year and thanks to the Catholic lobby, Grassi was still enjoying freedom. But because he had not respected the restrictions imposed by the judge (prohibiting relations with the foundation “Happy Children”), he was detained under house arrest. Once again, the superior representative of the Catholic Church in Argentina had opted for the traditional politics of the Church: silence, support to rapists and pedophiles.
In December 2009, Monsignor Edgar Storni was sentenced to 8 years imprisonment for aggravated sex abuse against a young seminarist. Due to his old age, he was detained under house arrest. In April 2011, the Penal Court of Santa Fe rescinded the conviction, thanks to a technical administrative appeal, and ordered a new trial, but Storni died in 2012 in impunity.
In October 2002, that prelate was forced to resign his position as a bishop, because of the scandals caused by the exposition of sex abuse and sexual harassment against 47 seminarists. During the trial, the Church claimed: “There is legal action, and justice will take its course”. Those were the words of the vice-president of the episcopate, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio. Nothing more was heard from the clergy until now, even after the conviction. Silence and legal and economic support as usual to the former bishop from clerical obscurantism.
During the year 2010, Bergoglio was summoned to testify three times, and as always, he refused to appear in court. In the past, during the trial of the military juntas, his refusal was motivated by health reasons. Finally he accepted to appear as a witness at the trial concerning the Plan of systematic theft of babies and in the lengthy trial of the ESMA (Navy Mechanics Superior School) in an oral hearing in his own office as a Cardinal Primate, a privilege granted by the dictatorship to the clergy under Article 250 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
The cross-examination focused on two cases questions
The first case focused on testimonies asserting that Bergoglio had delivered to the military the Jesuit priests Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics, who were involved in social work in the community of Flores, a very poor sector in Buenos Aires; they were abducted in May 1976, at the beginning of the dictatorship. Five months later they were released after being tortured during cross-examination at ESMA.
The second case concerned his knowledge of the theft of babies of abducted and afterward assassinated persons by the genocide perpetrators. In both cases, Cardinal Bergoglio provided little information, saying that he could not remember the names and that he did not know the existence of documents in the archives of the Church. However, there is clear evidence which implicates him in the crime and contradicts his testimony: when he left his position, some documents came to light which he had hidden to the Justice, and which depended on the Argentinian Bishops’ Conference over which he had presided for six years.
In 2010, the debate became more intense on the regulation on same-sex marriage. Bergoglio was a staunch opponent, leading the issue on the extreme path of a holy war, and spreading an abundant, all-round and discriminatory “verbal diarrhea” as one can see in his own words: “Don’t be ingenuous: this is not a simple political struggle; it is the attempt to destroy God’s plan.”
“It is not only the draft of a bill (which is only the tool), but it is the commotion of the Father of the lie who intends to confuse and deceive God’s children.”
“The draft will be examined at the Senate after July 13th. Let’s look at Saint-Joseph, Mary, the Holy Child and ask them with fervor to defend the Argentinian family presently. Let’s remind them what God Himself had told his people in a moment of great anguish: “This war is not yours, it is God’s war”. May they help us, may they defend us and accompany us in this War of God.”
Some very rare priests dared contradict Cardinal Bergoglio, and support same-sex marriage. One of them was Father Nicolas Alessio, who was quickly expelled from the clergy. In this regard, he says: “They condemned me and expelled me because of my differing views. And note that this very Church has not in the least reprimanded pederast priests such as Bishop Edgar Gabriel Storni, who lives comfortably here in La Falda, in the Mounts of Córdoba, or Julius Cesar Grassi, and both were found guilty for sex abuse against minors. There is no sanction either for Christian von Wernich, sentenced for crimes against humanity. Therefore, we feel that the Church tolerates torturers and rapists in its ranks, but does not tolerate the one who thinks differently and dares say it publicly.”
In spite of clerical pressure and lobbying the Congress of the Nation, on July 15, 2010, Argentina became the first country in Latin America to recognize that right across the national territory..
Bergoglio has always claimed to be a staunch opponent to decriminalization of abortion in any case, even those cases that Argentinian law does not consider as punishable (for example in case of pregnancy following a rape). He has even said that legislating on that issue was “appalling”. Hundreds of women are seriously injured or died in Argentina because of illegal abortion, and yet the new pope calls “death culture” those who stand in defense of the right of women to control their own bodies.
In 2010, in the luxury Alvear Palace Hotel of Buenos Aires, the new pope of the Catholic Church, took the floor in a seminar on Public Policy organized by the Postgraduate City School of Argentina (at the time), the Holy Savior University College and Charles III University of Madrid, i.e. private and elitist institutions. The Cardinal, surrounded by the highest neoliberal VIP of the 1990s who have led Argentina to the worst crisis in history, talked at length and signed a document in complete opposition to the government, clearly explaining his political stance. He firmly insisted on a sentence on poverty, calling it “immoral, unfair and illegitimate”. Let’s remind that, every year, the Argentinian state spends US$ 7.2 million in salaries and provisions for bishops, priests and seminarists. As for the bishops, 96 of them earn US$4,400 every month, tax-free, under the terms of a decree-law passed during the latest dictatorship.
Bergoglio is said to be in favor of inter-religious dialogue, but he dialogues with the most reactionary sectors of the other religions, such as evangelism represented by the former Member of Parliament Cynthia Hotton, who has been a staunch opponent to same-sex marriage. With the public support of Francis, she has introduced the draft of a bill on “religious freedom” which was a violation of all the concept of secular state, and only the militant efforts of associations of believers and non-believers were able to reject.
One day after Bergoglio’s appointment as pope of the Roman Catholic Church, the people responsible for repression who are currently being tried for crimes against humanity perpetrated during the latest military dictatorship at the detention center of “La Perla”, were wearing badges with the colors of the Vatican flag at the judicial hearing. Remind that at the celebration of the bicentenary of the fatherland, the Catholic hierarchy, with Francis as the supreme authority, officially requested for amnesty for those guilty of genocide, a question that the government did not dare to deal with, seeing that the Church was not willing to assume liability of the request.
For the Argentinian and Latin-American Human-rights advocates, Bergoglio’s appointment is not good news. We know his record and what he is capable of. Beyond doubt, the struggle for a completely secular Latin America will be a fierce struggle against all clerical forces.
Fernando Esteban LOZADA, Engineer,
Spokesperson of the International Association of the Free Thought (IAFT) for Latin America;
Member of the Argentinian Coalition for a Secular State (CAEL);
President of the National Congress of Atheism in Argentina;
Past-President and presently in charge of the inter-institutional relations of the Civil Association of Mar del Plata Atheists