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Cardinals Elect a New Pope from Argentina -- Does the New Pontiff Come with a Dark Past?

The new pope is the first Latin American ever to grace the papal throne.

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But given Bergoglio's doctrinal orthodoxy and hints of a dark past, he may not be quite the messiah the faithful had hoped for.

Compassion for the Poor, But No Progressive

News reports are making much of Bergoglio's personal humility and belief in compassion for the poor. When named archbishop, he gave up his limo, opting to ride the bus. He's said to live in a simple apartment where he cooks for himself. He's viewed as a truly pastoral figure, devoting his career to his home country of Argentina, where he is known as an educator of the priests who work at the parish level.

But when liberation theology, born of the theological notion of a preferential option for the poor, was sweeping his continent, Bergoglio backed away, and a frequent criticism of his term as archbishop is that, despite his simple lifestyle, he speaks little of social justice, stressing individual spirituality.

In fact, he's theologically closer to the last two prelates, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, than to the liberal and beloved Pope John XXIII, whose legacy leaves many Catholics yearning for someone similar. But Bergoglio campaigned against same-sex marriage in Argentina, and said that adoptions by LGBT people discriminate against children.

Yet he has called for LGBT people to be treated with dignity, according to the National Catholic Reporter, and has shown compassion toward AIDS patients. "In 2001," writes NCR's John L. Allen, Jr., "he visited a hospice to kiss and wash the feet of 12 AIDS patients."

On matters pertaining to the rights of women, including their reproductive rights, Bergoglio holds to the orthodox line. He even sought to prevent the distribution of free contraceptives in Argentina.

Hints of Dark Past and Troubling Association

During Argentina's "dirty wars," which took place under a military dictatorship, 1976-1983, political opponents of the regime were routinely disappeared while American aid dollars rolled in to the junta. Throughout it all, most of Argentina's bishops remained silent, including Bergoglio.

UPDATE: Horacio Verbitsky, a prominent Argentinian journalist, wrote in his book, El Silencio, that in 1976, Bergoglio, then a high-ranking official in the Society of Jesus (the formal name for the Jesuit order), " withdrew his order's protection," as Reuters described the allegation, from two priests working among the poor in Argentina's urban slums. The two were subsequently kidnapped by the regime.

The Reuters article includes this comment from an Argentine scholar about Bergoglio and the Dirty Wars:

 

"History condemns him. It shows him to be opposed to all innovation in the Church and above all, during the dictatorship, it shows he was very cozy with the military," Fortunato Mallimacci, the former dean of social sciences at the Universidad de Buenos Aires, once said.

His actions during this period strained his relations with many brother Jesuits around the world, who tend to be more politically liberal.

Hugh O'Shaughnessy, writing two years ago in the Guardian, suggested that Bergoglio may have been more complicit than merely silent.**  UPDATE: However, since Bergoglio's election yesterday as the new pope, the Guardian has amended O'Shaughnessy's piece, writing in an editor's note that O'Shaughnessy incorrectly attributed his accusation of Bergoglio's alleged involvement in a plot to hide the junta's political prisoners from the Inter-American Human Rights Commission to a book by Horacio Verbitsky. (See our correction, below.)

The cardinal's spokesman denied the charges, and, according to the U.K. edition of the International Business Times, "no evidence was presented linking him to the kidnapping" of the two priests. A 2005 lawsuit against Bergoglio for his alleged involvement in the  the kidnapping apparently came to naught.

 
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