One is not surprised at the sudden interest in the present pope’s performance during the “Dirty War” in Argentina. This is quite natural and understandable and so far it shows us that as the senior Jesuit in that country nothing lurid during ihis time has stuck to Pope Francis. The critical tipping point for one conversant with this ugly episode in Argentina was the comment of Peace Nobelist Perez Esquivel, himself a heroic figure at that time. Esquivel exonerates Bergoglio from the sad performance of many clerics and bishops during this period.
Adolfo Perez Esquivel
There was a lot of blame and cowardice to go around in those years. The Argentine bishops did not distinguish themselves nor did Papal Pro-Nubcio Pio Laghi a career diplomat who later served in thet capacity in Washington. Laghi now deceased had admitted that he had knowledge of 6,000 cases of people who had disappeared. 20 years later the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo marched in Rome demanding that he be prosecuted as an accomplice of the regime. What was well known was that he maintained very close contacts with the Argentine junta and had a close friendship with Admiral Emilio Eduardo Massera, a frequent tennis partner and whose children he baptized. Laghi stated that President Jorge Videla (1976-81) really was “a good Catholic.” On December 22, 2010, Videla was sentenced to life in a civilian prison for the deaths of 31 prisoners following his coup d’éta and in July 2012, he was sentenced to 50 years in prison for the systematic kidnapping of children during his tenure.
Good people always emerge
As always there were heroes in the Church.One was Irish Passionist Fred Richards who edited his community’s newsletter The Southern Cross. This small paper written for the Irish community in Buenos Aires kept publishing reports of the disappeared as they occurred while at the same time the craven public press kept mum. Richards later felt the enmity of the military vicar Bishop Adolfo Tortolo, an apologist for the military.
When the Order’s General, American Ted Folley visited Buenos Aires at that time he received a blistering letter from the Cardinal-Primate Antonio Caggiano. Richards had written an editorial the title of which which says it all “The Silence of the Bishops”–who did not speak out against the abuses of the government.
The Passionist Order, founded in 1720 to keep alive the memory of the suffering Christ had honoured their charism.In 1995 Richards was honoured by Irish President Mary Robinson for his courage. The order had refused to shut up during a period of massive human rights abuses.
In El Norte and especially in Canada it is difficult to penetrate and fully understand the stunning actions of a modern fascist government especially in a highly educated populace. We do not have the cultural awareness to comprehend such barbaric activity and such craven ecclesiastical performance.
Fascism and the Rat Line
A quick snapshot of Argentina may help here. Think Peron, think the Holocaust and World War ll when Croatian Franciscans organized “the Rat Line” to aid the escape of many Nazis to a fascist haven,Argentina. Croatia had been under the sway of the Poglavnik, Ante Pavelich, the supreme leader of the Ustashe movement in the war years. Pavelich led a puppet state friendly to Hitler. He also unleashed a genocidal persecution of Jews,Serbs and Roma. After the war Pavelich escaped and fled to Argentina. Bishop Alois Hudal, a Nazi sympathizer was key in facilitating the escape to Latin America of other mass murderers, the commandant of Treblinka Franz Stangl, Gustav Wagner the commandant of Sobibor and Alois Brunner who commanded the Drancy camp near Paris. Both Stangl and Wagner escaped to Brazil (remember the film Boys of Brazil ) another fascist redoubt. Brazil consistently refused all extradition requests. Adolf Eichmann of course was snatched from Buenos Aires by the Israeli government in 1960 and the worst of them all the commandant of Auschwitz Josef Megele hid out in Buenos Aires). Hudal’s disgusting activity (which finally saw him fired by the Vatican in 1952) was child’s play next to that of Croatian Framciscan Krunoslav Draganovic and his coterie of fascist priests.
The aforementioned Cardinal Caggiano of Argentina, a fervent leader of the right wing Catholic Action in 1946 went to Rome to facilitate the smuggling of these Nazis.. All of this was supported by Juan Peron,the Argentine president.
To understand the “Dirty War” and the Church, one must have a basic appreciation of Argentinian history and its strange (to us) proclivity to fascism and right wing Catholicism, always attracted to uber order, hierarchy and absolute obedience.