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What Pope Francis Was Doing in His Twenties

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What Pope Francis Was Doing in His Twenties. Image Credit: AP

It’s a story of revolution, tango, missing lungs, sock factories and nightclubs.

It begins with an unrequited love for a pretty girl and soccer dreams dashed by flat feet.

So goes the biography of Pope Francis — previously, Jorge Mario Bergoglio — the native Argentine, TIME‘s 2013 person of the year and rockstar pontiff who never ceases to make headlines with his humility and love for the destitute.

Like his current frugality, his early years were characteristically unassuming.

According to biographer Luis Rosales, Francis was born to working-class parents in 1936.

His father, an Italian immigrant, expected his son to work from an early age. While studying to become a chemical technician in high school, Francis worked as a janitor and accountant at a local sock factory.

He went on to become a chemist, and even briefly served as a nightclub bouncer.

Image Credit: AP

A true Argentine, he openly professes his lifelong love for tango and soccer, activities complicated by his flat feet. He also played basketball growing up. Physical activity, however, would become more difficult as a young man, when he lost part of his right lung — not the entire thing, as some accounts have suggested — due to an infection.

His tale is not without romance.

As a 12 year old, he wrote a love note to a girl, complete with a drawing, with the caption: “This is the house I’m going to buy you when we get married.” The girl’s father beat her for fraternizing with a boy, cutting the budding affair short.

Francis’ alleged, prophetic last words to the girl were: “If I don’t marry you, I’m going to become a priest.”

The pope has also confessed to having a girlfriend as a teenager who was part of his tango-loving group of friends, and to having become “dazzled” by a woman while in seminary.

All in all, the young Bergoglio was everything you would expect from a pious, humble Argentine growing up in the ’40s and ’50s.

But there was a characteristic of the aspiring priest that was unique, something that would go on to profoundly shape his papacy: He was fascinated by politics.

Bergoglio grew up during a watershed period for Argentina.

He was just a young boy in 1945, when hundreds of thousands of workers famously descended on Buenos Aires’ main square, la Plaza de Mayo, to demand that Juan Domingo Perón — the populist who would become the country’s most consequential president — be released from prison.

Like the childhood memories of the terrorist attacks on September 2001 marking the beginning of millennials’ grappling with the role of the United States in the world, Bergoglio came of age during an intense period of class consciousness and political upheaval in Argentina. According to Rosales, Bergoglio strongly identified with the struggle to extend protections to society’s lower classes under Perón.

Image Credit: AP.

Working in the chemistry lab, a young Bergoglio became close with an avowed communist, who sparked his interest in Marxist writing. He read communist publications growing up, he says, and loved “every article,” which guided his “political formation.”

“But I was never a communist,” Francis says. It was because of his “political preoccupations” that he delayed attending seminary school for a full four years after deciding he wanted to become a priest, though he claims his political beliefs never went beyond the “intellectual plane.” His career, however, tells another story.

While serving the Church in Argentina, Bergoglio developed a reputation as a savvy political operator. He clashed with the administration of the current president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and her husband who served before, over issues like marriage equality and socioeconomic inequality.

As the leader of the Jesuits, he was a powerful player during the period of the military dictatorship and had to walk a fine line. Though allegations have surfaced that he didn’t adequately protect some of the priests that reported to him, the accusations haven’t stuck.

Image Credit: AP

But it has been during his papacy that Francis’ political genius has truly shown.

On issue after issue, from homosexuality to priest celibacy to inequality, he has projected a kinder, more modern Catholic Church without changing a single piece of doctrine.

For someone who said he wouldn’t use the Internet until he turned 75, he has been a skilled communicator in the digital age. His photo ops — whether kissing a disfigured man, washing the feet of AIDS victims, calling for peace in the Middle East or zipping around in a Ford Focus — instantly go viral, projecting a vision of humility to millions of people.

If this pope thing doesn’t work out, our friend Francis could have a promising career as a political consultant.

Pope Francis: Cooperated with Argentina Military dictatorship?

Catholic cardinals, (115 of them eligible to vote), selected Argentine Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope. The Catholic elected Pope Francis (76 of age) who headed Argentina Jesuits Order during the military dictatorship of 1976-1983.  Francis of Assisi was the founder of this order.

This is the first time a Pope is from Latin America and also the first Pope from the Jesuit Order.  There had been much hope for a non-European pope, and Bergoglio fits that bill.

Bergoglio was consecrated cardinal by Jean Paul II and was a candidate 7 years ago, the second runner, in the last election for a Pope. He was a highly conservative clergy: against abortion, against gay marriage, against women priests, and against many modern issues. He allowed baptizing children from out of wedlock.

Colin Snider posted on March 13, 2013:

Argentina military dictatorship of 1976-1983, murdered upwards of 30,000 people (as well as kidnapping hundreds of children whose parents the regime had tortured and murdered).

Unlike Catholic officials in neighboring Chile and Brazil, where priests, bishops, and even cardinals spoke out against human rights abuses and defended victims of abuses, the Catholic Church in Argentina was openly complicit in the military regime’s repression.

Bergoglio was not exempt from this involvement: military officers have testified that Bergoglio helped the Argentine military regime hide political prisoners when human rights activists visited the country.

And Bergoglio himself had to testify regarding the kidnapping of two priests who he stripped of their religious licenses shortly before they were kidnapped and tortured.

This isn’t just a case of Bergoglio being a member of an institution that supported a brutal regime; it’s a case of Bergoglio himself having ties, direct and indirect, to that very regime.

This is why the selection of Bergoglio over Scherer (Brazil cardinal) is disappointing.

Thirteen years younger than Bergoglio, Scherer’s path was notably different. The Catholic Church supported Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964-1985) in its early years. However, as Ken Serbin has demonstrated, already by the late-1960s and early-1970s, high-ranking officials in the church hierarchy were secretly meeting with representatives from the dictatorship in order to try to pressure military rulers to respect human rights, even for alleged “subversives.”

By the latter half of the 1970s, the Brazilian Catholic church had become one of the more vocal opponents of human rights violations under the regime, and the Archdiocese of São Paulo ultimately played a central role in secretly accessing, collecting, and publishing files on torture, murder, and repression under the dictatorship, eventually published in 1985 as Brasil: Nunca Mais (literally Brazil: Never Again; in English, Torture in Brazil).

Where Bergoglio was active in a context where the Argentine Church openly supported military regimes and human rights violations, Scherer was active in a context where members of the Brazilian Church openly took a stand against such abuses and against the regime that committed them.

A few weeks ago, a student asked me if I thought the cardinals would finally pick a Latin America pope. I commented that if they were smart, they’d diversify by picking a Brazilian and democratizing a bit, but I feared they’d pick an Italian and show a refusal to reform and democratize the church. With the selection of Bergoglio, it appears they’ve chosen to split the difference, diversifying beyond Europe while continuing the conservatism that defined recent popes.”

Would Pope Francisco use his past and his new position to try not only to transform the Church but to provide a platform that advocates human rights and the punishment of human rights violators?

Pope Francis has to come clean and admit his previous positions and actions. I would greatly help if he issues an explicitly statement in support of human rights under any authoritarian regimes.




June 2022

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