Meet the new pope. Same as the old pope?

pope francis

So, it’s official, Argentina’s Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio is now Pope Francis. You probably already know this just as you probably already know he likes to ride the bus, is virulently opposed to same-sex marriage and may have been involved in a few kidnappings back in the day.

Analysis of just what this selection of pontiff means, sordid details from his past and even a few humourous memes (decent, but nowhere near as good as all the Palpatine ones that came with the previous pontificate) spread as quickly yesterday as the news of his election itself. Before the white smoke had cleared the sky around the Vatican chimney, we were starting to get a picture of who this new pope was and what kind of pope he may be.

So, is this a change in the right direction or are the world’s catholics and the rest who pay attention to the Holy See in for more of what they got from Benedict XVI? Well, let’s have a look…

The Good

bergoglio subwayAlways good to start positive. Let’s see, he likes to ride the bus and live in a simple apartment. Yes, up until now, he’s forgone free limo rides and mansions offered to him in favour of slumming it with the rest of us. Good, but I have a feeling that will change. I doubt Vatican security will let him shun the pope-mobile, and it’s pretty much established that he won’t be living in an apartment from now on.

He’s also known to fight for the poor. He’s from the Jesuit order, known for speaking up for social justice and, as many have pointed out, choosing a name to evoke St-Francis Assisi emphasizes his connection with the poor. He’s also from Latin America, which shows the Church is willing to move away from its Europeans only image at the very top.

Now to compare. Benedict had a keen interest in the environment and did criticize economic policies that hurt the poor. So that’s two good points to one in favour of the previous pontiff, but then if you factor in that Ratzinger was German, definitely a part of the Europe club, they come out even.

The Bad

argentina gay rights

While the last pope clearly wasn’t a champion of gay rights or women in the clergy, his regressive attitude came out mainly in the form of doctrinal announcements. The new guy, on the other hand, made some pretty nasty comments that are hard to top on the cringe-worthy scale.

While actively fighting against Argentina’s efforts to legalize same-sex marriage (which passed, by the way), Cardinal Bergoglio said:

“Let’s not be naive, we’re not talking about a simple political battle; (marriage equality) is a destructive pretension against the plan of God. We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”

He also went on to call gay parents adopting children a “form of discrimination against children.” I couldn’t find any statement by him on child sex abuse by the clergy, let alone him labelling it as a form of discrimination against children.

I also couldn’t find a statement by him about women or contraception. Even though his predecessor said many things on these subjects, the sheer virulence of Bergoglio’s comments on homosexuality ties him, in my book, with Ratzinger on the anti-progressive scale.

The Ugly

pope dictator
Pope Francis (left) and Argentinian dictator Jorge Rafael Videla

And I mean ugly. Turns out that during Argentina’s “dirty wars ” (a period in the late 70s and early 80s where the country was controlled by US-backed dictators) this champion of the poor may have tried to stop two Jesuit priests under his direction who believed in liberation theology from helping the poor in Buenos Ares. When they refused, he stopped protecting them, effectively handing them over to the death squads who kidnapped and tortured them, according to one of the priests who told the Associated Press.

In all fairness, he was also instrumental in their release a few months later. This was supposedly possible because he was close with the military dictatorship.

Until yesterday, a report in the Guardian had Argentinian journalist Horacio Verbitsky claiming that Bergoglio helped hid some of the regime’s political prisoners from human rights observers on his island home with Bergoglio countering that he was hiding them from the regime, despite his Jesuit order publicly endorsing the dictatorship. Verbitsky has since stated that the new pope was not personally concealing the prisoners, though the church was. The original passage is still quoted in Business Insider.

Years later, the Argentinian church apologized for its lack of action during those brutal years while Bergoglio insisted he didn’t know anything about the regime taking babies  from people they killed. A letter from a colonel asking for help says otherwise.

So back to the comparison. Ratzinger was a Hitler Youth, but I’d argue that Bergoglio’s sketchy past was worse, much worse. This is for one key reason : Ratzinger was basically a kid when he was part of the HJ whereas Bergoglio was an adult and a member of the church with power and prominence when he allegedly turned a blind eye to and outright helped a brutal regime.

It’s now clear that the new pope is, at best, the same as the old pope, but if these allegations of what he did during the dirty wars are true, I’d say he’s worse.

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