The New Pope: A "Humble Man of the People"... or Fascist Collaborator?

April 18, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper |


Mainstream media sources have poured praise on the new Pope, Francis I, for being a humble man of the people. Yet he upholds the most anti-people positions. He is adamantly opposed to the right of abortion, access to birth control, women’s equality inside the Church, gay marriage (which he called the work of the devil), and the rights of gay people to adopt children.

But to truly understand this man, we should look at his role in Argentina during the Dirty War of 1976-1983 (see sidebar).

The Church in the 1960s

Argentina’s “Dirty War”

During the 1960s and early 1970s, Argentina was wracked with rebellion and chaos. The economy, dominated by U.S. imperialism, was in total collapse, the masses of people suffering terribly. Guerrilla organizations were waging various types of armed struggles against the government, mainly in the cities but also in the northern forests. Millions of students and workers, small farmers and sugar plantation laborers were in open rebellion against the oppression and exploitation by the large capitalists and landowners who themselves were caught up in the imperialist economic web.

In 1976 a significant section of Argentina’s ruling class decided a fascist military seizure of the government was needed to suppress the rebellions and bring about "order." Backed by U.S. arms shipments and political and economic support, and by French military advisors employing counterinsurgency methods developed against the people’s struggles in Algeria and Indochina, Argentina’s generals seized power and unleashed what has come to be called the "Dirty War" (la Guerra Sucia), the name borrowed from the French and their vicious war against the Algerian people.

All forms of opposition, even nonviolent and religious opposition, were smashed mercilessly. The anti-government guerrilla movements were shattered, both in the cities and the countryside. An estimated 30,000 people were murdered in a seven-year reign of terror, many of them simply "disappeared." To hide their crimes, the military hid the bodies. One infamous method was to throw prisoners from an airplane into the sea, while still alive. Torture was the norm in dealing with prisoners.

During the worldwide revolutionary storm of the 1960s, there was sharp polarization in the Catholic Church.

In Latin America, a large number of priests and nuns, many of them associated with the liberation theology movement and the Movement of Priests for the Third World, sympathized with the oppressed and in various ways defended them and/or joined in their struggles against their oppressors, including against U.S. imperialism. In Argentina, many priests went to live in the “villas miseria” (impoverished slums), some actively participating in the people’s struggles, others helping the poor survive.

Other Catholic clergy took the side of the ruling class oppressors and exploiters. In Argentina’s Dirty War, some participated in torture, assuring the torturers that their work was morally correct and trying to convince the victims to talk, including taking confession and passing the information to the torturers. And the two highest Argentine archbishops openly embraced the fascist generals.

What about Father Bergoglio during the Dirty War? On one point there is no debate: Bergoglio did not stand up and denounce the fascist rulers. He did not unite with those who were resisting the repression. He appeared in public with the fascist generals. He celebrated the Catholic Mass with them.

Even had he done nothing else, for someone in Bergoglio's position to accommodate to the fascist rulers, going along with each new repressive move, is itself enough to reveal him as a totally immoral monster—or rather a man with monstrous morals.

But the facts show a man who did much more than that. A skilled politician, he defended the status quo and stabbed in the back those who resisted, while providing empty gestures in defense of the downtrodden.

In the 1960s, Bergoglio was a member of the Guardia de Hierro (Iron Guard), a right-wing youth group active especially in Catholic universities. He opposed the radicalized students and the “leftist contamination” of the Jesuit order.

In 1969, he became the most powerful Jesuit leader in Argentina. In 1976, when a military coup was imminent, Bergoglio ordered his priests to stop supporting the anti-fascist resistance movements and even to stop working in the villas miseria because the rulers considered it seditious.

But many priests and nuns refused to sell out the people they worked and lived among. The military savagely attacked them. The Ecumenical Movement for Human Rights estimates that 100 priests, nuns, and other clergy were killed. The government even killed a bishop, Enrique Angelelli, who was about to expose the murder of two priests.

The Priests Yorio and Jalics

In May 1976, soldiers entered the home of Emilio Mignone to arrest his 24-year-old daughter, Monica. Mignone was a devout Catholic with faith in the government and the Church. Monica was active in a Catholic youth group working in the villa miseria Bajo Flores. Mignone told his daughter to go with the men. He never saw her again. She was tortured and “disappeared.” He and his wife, who became a founder of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, sought help from the Church, but were turned away. He became a human rights activist and investigated the role of the Catholic Church.

In 1986, Mignone's book The Church and the Dictatorship: The Role of the Church in Light of its Relationship to the Military Regime described Bergoglio as an example of “the sinister complicity” of the Church with the military that “took charge of the filthy task of wiping clean the inner halls of the Church, with the acquiescence of the prelates.” Mignone also related Bergoglio’s complicity in the kidnapping and torture of two young Jesuit priests, Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics.

The Argentine journalist Horacio Verbitsky also investigated the Church and the Dirty War. In his 2005 book, The Silence: From Paul VI to Bergoglio: The Secret Relations Between the Church and the ESMA, as well as in more recent work, Verbitsky backed Mignone’s account.

Yorio and Jalics had been living and working among the poor. In 1976, the military put out a call to arrest them, claiming they were part of the armed resistance. It appears that this was untrue, though they opposed the fascist regime. They went to the leader of their order, Cardinal Bergoglio, asking him to protect them. Bergoglio told them he would protect them, but also ordered them to stop their work in defense of the oppressed—which they found unacceptable. In reality, however, Bergoglio did not protect them and had in fact been spreading word in Church circles that the two priests were subversives. Verbitsky interviewed a number of people who worked with Yorio and Jalics who are convinced that Bergoglio actually told the military to grab them. The two young priests were arrested, tortured, and held for five months in the infamous torture and detention center ESMA (Navy Mechanics School), after which they were dumped in a field.

Both priests fled Argentina. Yorio, who has since died, stated many times that Father Bergoglio had handed him and Jalics over to the military. Jalics was more diplomatic, saying that a certain “person” betrayed them, but it was clear from his description (in his 1994 book Meditation Exercises) that he meant Bergoglio. When Bergoglio became Pope Francis, Jalics said he wanted to put the history behind him. (“I am reconciled to the events and view them from my side as concluded.”) A few days later, he stated that he and Yorio “were not denounced by Father Bergoglio” and it is “wrong to assert that our capture took place at the initiative of Father Bergoglio.” On the one hand, it is revealing that he comes to this conclusion now, after 37 years and after Bergoglio becomes Pope; and on the other hand, the statement is carefully worded and does not say that Bergoglio was innocent of driving them out of the Jesuit order and creating an atmosphere which was a green light for the military to go after them.

Francisco Jalics’ Passport

Verbitsky also uncovered a revealing incident involving Bergoglio and Jalics in 1979. Living in Germany, Jalics wanted to renew his Argentine passport without having to return to Argentina. Verbitsky found documents in the archive of Foreign Ministry of Argentina that expose Bergoglio’s role and methods. First, Bergoglio made an official request that Jalics be allowed to renew his passport without returning to Argentina. Then came two internal notes from a ministry officer to the Foreign Minister saying that Bergoglio told him to ignore his official request and deny the passport application because Jalics had links with subversion and had been arrested and held in ESMA. Verbitsky wrote: “The procedure described in those documents coincides with the duplicitous style which Yorio and Jalics attribute to Bergoglio.” Verbitsky titled one chapter of his book, “Las dos mejillas del cardenal”—the two sides of Bergoglio’s face.

Stolen Babies

One of the horrific elements of the rule of the fascists in Argentina was their campaign to steal the babies from mothers that they murdered (including waiting for pregnant detainees to give birth before killing them), and give those babies to military officers and others in the regime. In 1985, a powerful film depicting this was produced in Argentina, La historia oficial [The Official Story]. An estimated 500 children were stolen, given new parents and new names, and never heard from again by their blood relatives. This has given rise to the movement Madres de Plaza de Mayo, an organization and movement of mothers seeking their lost children and grandchildren and demanding justice for those murdered.

Alicia de la Cuadra, a co-founder of Madres de Plaza de Mayo, whose daughter and newborn grandchild “disappeared,” asked Bergoglio for help. He appointed a priest to look into it. That priest, appointed by Bergoglio, informed her that her grandchild was adopted by a family “too important” to oppose.

Another co-founder of Madres, Estela Carlotto, said he "has never spoken of the problem of people who had disappeared under dictatorial rule."

Bergoglio's True Colors

Rocked by scandal after scandal, the Catholic Church has taken the unprecedented (in 600 years) step of replacing a live pope. An analysis of the crisis in the Catholic Church, its overall historic and present day role as a pillar of oppression, and why the Church hierarchy turned to Bergoglio is beyond the scope of this article.

Yet our look at Bergoglio’s role during the Dirty War reveals the truth about his attitude toward the oppressed. As long as they are docile slaves who don’t resist oppression and exploitation, he will be their “humble servant.” But once they rise up in resistance and, even worse, when Catholic priests and nuns support that resistance, then Bergoglio’s true colors come to light.

It is not clear whether Bergoglio was himself a fascist during the Dirty War, or one of those who would have preferred a more “democratic” form of rule but accommodated to the fascists more and more, preferring them over chaos or revolution. Either stand, however, is absolutely indefensible.



Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.