Dawn of a Haunted Papacy

“New Pope: The Most Corrupt Vatican Since the Borgias” (Matthew Fox, Theologian and author of, The Pope’s War )

There is a lot happening in Latin American now with the death of Hugo Chavez and  the election of a new pope, the first non-European pontiff in over a thousand years. Seventy-six year old Jorge Mario Bergoglio has chosen the name Francis I, and  is also the first Jesuit to hold this Holy Office.  These are challenging times for the scandal ridden Vatican, in the wake of Vatileaks disclosures, and the resignation of Germany’s Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI.  His troubled reign began with stories of his membership in a Hitler Youth organization, questions about his role as head of the Inquisition (re-named Sacred Doctrine of Faith),  and continued with ongoing rumors of pedophile rings, human trafficking, gay cabals and money laundering. Further embarrassment arrived with a revelation that during Pope Benedict’s reign in 2008, the Vatican purchased a palazzo at 2 Via Carduccio containing church offices and also Europa Multiclub, Europe’s largest gay sauna.

Almost immediately after the announcement of Argentina’s new pope, a chorus of criticism and controversy arose about the Church’s complicity with the murderous military junta during Operation Condor,  and the fascist, Dirty War of 1976-1983. Here one can observe a very long fractal concerning the relationship between Church and State, which, in the Christian world,  dates back to Augustine’s decision to form an alliance with Emperor Constantine. This is not so surprising given that both inherently authoritarian institutions have thrived on secrecy, made skillful use of pageantry, and promoted patriarchy as well as blind loyal obedience to power and privilege as a virtue; often reinforced by draconian law.

Papal scandals are nothing new,  and  have been  extensively documented throughout the ages.  In recent history, accusations as to the consequences of the Church’s questionable relationship with fascist regimes,  evoked  the old ghosts of  unresolved  controversy surrounding Pope Pius XII and  the Holocaust.  Also known as “Hitler’s Pope”, prior to his election as pontiff,   Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli   had served as special envoy to The Third Reich. In the aftermath of World War II, there remain various accounts of Catholic Church involvement in the so-called “Ratlines” that enabled many notorious Nazis murderers to escape to Latin America and other countries.  It is an open secret that many of these Nazis took positions of power in countries involved with Operation Condor.

At this time, it seems that the specific allegations against Pope Francis relate to a time when, as Cardinal Bergoglio, he removed church protection from leftist priests who were then kidnapped and tortured by agents of the Military Junta in 1976. These and other clergy were amongst some 30,000 victims, most of whom were tortured, then “disappeared”, and their children sold to the highest bidder. Details of Cardinal Bergoglio’s alleged involvement in the Dirty War are set forth by Horacio Verbitsky, one of Argentina’s most notable journalists, in Il Silencio (Silence).  The complicity of the Argentine Catholic Church with the grotesque oppressions of the fascist Junta is not in dispute, and stands in some contrast with the Church in Chile which often stood up to General Pinochet with demands for accountability.  This issue is not likely to go away anytime soon with the Operation Condor trial now underway in Buenos Aires with over 500 witnesses expected to testify against the heinous crimes committed during the Dirty War. Further challenges loom for this pontiff, given his historically contentious relationship with Christina Kirchner’s administration and her support of same sex marriage, adoption, and free birth control.

Overall, controversies surrounding the election of Cardinal Bergoglio as the 266th pontiff have cast a long shadow over an already troubled institution. This situation is especially regrettable given the great need and deep longing for a spiritual authority during these turbulent times.  Those who still maintain some hope for radical change or at least some reform at the Vatican, will be in need of considerable patience.  Those who study history will remember that change comes slowly within the upper echelons of the Catholic Church.   A case in point would be that of the 16th century astronomer Galileo Galilei, who was brought before the Holy Inquisition. He was imprisoned and threatened with torture for asserting that Earth is a planet in a solar system which orbits around our sun.
The ban on his book was finally lifted in 1822, the Vatican endorsed Galileo’s findings during the nineteen sixties, and in 1992 Pope John Paul II apologized for the persecution of the Renaissance astronomer.

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