Ky. Voices: Light on new pope's tainted past could hasten church's rebirth

March 19, 2013 

Until Wednesday's election of Pope Francis, I must confess I doubted the ability of the Holy Spirit to influence the election of a successor to recently resigned Benedict XVI. After all, Benedict and his predecessor had so stacked the College of Cardinals that the likelihood of a progressive or reformer being elected seemed impossible.

That is, all of the papabile were clones of the previous two popes — opponents of women's ordination, artificial contraception and of liberation theology. The patriarchy had defeated, it seemed, the very spirit of Jesus.

However, as they say, the Holy Spirit operates in strange ways. Evidently, she concluded, "I'll let them elect a clone of John Paul II if they like. But then I'll take over and allow the scandalous crimes of that clone to become evident. As a result, he'll have to resign. Then in desperation, the church will turn to a real reformer — this time chosen from outside the ranks of the College of Cardinals — perhaps even a feminine spirit like mine."

Does that seem so crazy? Let's move one step at a time.

To begin with, Francis shouldn't resign because he's ultimately bad for Argentina and Latin America. Remember, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was a "compassionate conservative." That means he's a churchman who talks about combatting poverty but then ends up opposing progressive politicians like Argentine president Cristina Kirchner.

In this, he's the analogue of U.S. bishops siding with the Republican Party. All of those bishops claim to support the poor. However they end up doing the opposite. Their positions on the overriding wedge issues of contraception, abortion and same-sex marriage put them in bed with the Republicans and their "preferential option for the rich."

In this way, the bishops end up trying to persuade Catholics to vote Republican. Bergoglio did something similar in Argentine politics.

Secondly, the new pope shouldn't resign because he betrayed two fellow Jesuits during Argentina's "Dirty War." During that conflict (1976-1983), and like most of the hierarchy in Latin America, Bergoglio sided with the criminal dictatorship whose leader has since been put behind bars as a ruthless murderer.

According to Horacio Verbitsky and his book, Silencio, Bergoglio, then superior general of the Society of Jesus, removed his order's protection from two of his brother Jesuits accused of "subversion" (opposition to the military dictatorship). True, Verbitsky says, the future pope adopted a public posture of seeking the Jesuits' release. Privately, however, he cooperated in prolonging their detention and torture.

Both priests later brought charges against Bergoglio as an accomplice of the military. After initially and repeatedly invoking ecclesiastical privilege to avoid deposition about the case, Bergoglio was finally interviewed by prosecutors. According to Argentine human rights organizations, his answers were highly evasive.

No, the real reason Francis should resign is because of what he did about the von Wernich case.

Cristian Von Wernich was a police chaplain sentenced to life imprisonment for aiding and abetting the military in the illegal kidnapping, torture and murder of prisoners during the brutal dictatorship of the Argentine military.

According to The New York Times, while von Wernich was being investigated for his actions, and while Bergoglio was head of the Argentine Bishops Conference, the priest was transferred to Chile under an assumed name.

There he served in a parish until his arrest, conviction and imprisonment for the crimes just mentioned. And von Wernich has never been defrocked, and no apology been issued by Bergoglio. In fact, the former police chaplain has been allowed to carry on as a priest while in prison.

Now imagine our reaction if von Wernich had been a pedophile. And imagine if Bergoglio had done exactly what he did in the case of this serial kidnaper, murderer and torturer — transferred a criminal to another parish while attempting to conceal his identity.

The whole world would be outraged and demand the pope's resignation. He would be discredited. And yet, a serial kidnapper, torturer and murderer is infinitely more dangerous than a serial pedophile.

The point is that we have exemplified in the case of the new pope the very same syndrome that has been universally descried in cases of pedophilia. It is the same syndrome that plagued the tenure of Benedict XVI and that possibly evoked his own resignation. It's the old boys protecting their own.

As I said, I'm not discouraged by all of this. Instead, my faith in the Holy Spirit has been renewed. Her ways are strange indeed. The papacy is crumbling before our eyes. But it might be the death necessary before resurrection.

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