Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Argentine reaction to the new pope reminds me why I left

In the streets they celebrated the election to St. Peter's chair of Argentine as if it were a soccer championship. At the same time, others began to sling mud made out of murky allegations without facts or dates. This is Argentina I left in 1970, never again to reside in its territory. 

How much ignorance! How much bile!

There are nations that have been staunchly Catholic, mostly out of rebellion: Ireland and Quebec against English Protestantism; Poland, Slovakia and Croatia against the Orthodox Russian Empire (later the Soviet Communists). However, they are exceptions and Catholicism has declined among them at about the same rate as the influence of the heretical invader.

However, in Argentina, and Latin America in general, the Church is colonial. The Catholicism of the majority is largely confined to rites of passage: baptism, wedding and burial. In the Pampas, the traditional gaucho greeting was "Hail Mary Purest," to which the newcomer was expected to reply "Conceived without sin." Was it faith or custom?

The nominally Catholic Argentines, who make up 90-something percent of the population since time immemorial, have received little or nothing of the content of the faith. There's a mixture of popular piety, superstition and remnants of pre-Christian religions that mixes Lent with Carnival, with the African orixa gods with saints, the decals of the Virgin next to that of the pinup of the moment, and Argentine Indian blessed Ceferino Namuncurá with "San Perón." 

Behold the mass that this week "won" the papal "world cup." As always with Argentina and Latin America, however, there are also conventional thinkers who hate the Church for ideological reasons; their information is no better than that of the flock. 

There's no anticlericalism more rabid than that of traditionally Catholic countries. See Garibaldi, Voltaire and Unamuno in Italy, France and Spain. In Argentina, Italianized by a huge influx of migrants from 1880-1914 and the two post-war periods, there is a huge motherlode that comes from the famous Anarchist Errico Malatesta, who emigrated there, along with other persecuted ideas of Europe. 

For them, it's enough to find photos of Jorge Bergoglio, in his role of national superior of the Jesuits and later bishop, with the first de facto head of state under the 1976-83 military regime -- both portrayed in liturgical or protocolary circumstances -- to argue that the new pope is a "murderer". I know perfectly well that Gen. Jorge Videla was tried in open court and, with plenty of evidence, found guilty of active participation in more than 5,000 kidnappings and murders.

However, in the case of Bergoglio there haven't been trials nor even proof of anything remotely criminal. There were inquiries and investigations, both official and unofficial; none of them unearthed the proverbial smoking gun proving complicity in what the Argentine military called the "dirty war". 

Gossip is not enough to condemn him, but the Argentine lumpen intelligentsia don't let the absence of facts get in the way of conclusions. 

Let me be clear. Bergoglio is and has been part of a clerical leadership that fundamentally tends toward conservatism in theology, philosophy and their vision of society. The hierarchy Argentina is a sea of ​​Thomists at the service of last absolute monarch in the world. One cannot quote expect revolution from them. 

I confess that this conservatism was one of the factors that influenced me to abandon what might have been be a priestly vocation that I felt in that bygone era when lights sparkled in the post-conciliar Church then reading "the signs of the times." 

I refer to the encyclical Populorum Progressio and the Latin American bishops' social justice cry in the Declaration of Medellin. I have in mind Dom Helder Câmara, the Brazilian bishop who advocated treating atheist Marx as Thomas Aquinas dealt with pagan Aristotle. Or Gustavo Gutierrez, the scribe of the liberation theology that was spawned in basic ecclesial communities, or Carlos Mugica, the priest of the slums of Buenos Aires -- I met both very briefly. Finally, I recall Camilo Torres, the Colombian guerrilla priest whose death with machine gun in the hand is still a sign of contradiction to me. 

Were they exceptions? Or are those like them, like Francis of Assisi or Francis Xavier, the minority that actually became Christian. 

All this is debatable. What is indisputable it's not a crime to be a dogmatic Pope, such as Francisco I.

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