Bergoglio, Jorge Mario (1936- ) continued

In the next six years, relations between the provincial and some of his men were strained.  It was the time of the "dirty war," the military dictatorship when thousands of innocent people (estimated at as many as 30,000) were murdered or were "disappeared." For example, hundreds of pregnant women in detention centers were murdered after they delivered, their babies given to "deserving" families of the military. The previous provincial had moved swiftly to initiate Vatican II-inspired reforms, and some vocal discontented Jesuits succeeded in having him removed. The man who was slated to succeed him died suddenly in a car accident. Thus the young Fr. Bergoglio, trusted enough to be appointed master of novices a few years earlier, came into office. He, too, acted with dispatch, but probably too often without adequate consultation. By his own later admission, his "authoritarian way of making decisions created problems" (Jesuit "Interview"). Still, he acted quietly and effectively again and again to help threatened people hide out or excape the country--at considerable risk to himself. During  these terrible years, Provincial Bergoglio "was neither a martyr nor a coward" (Tablet editorial).

After his time as provincial, Fr. Bergoglio taught theology and was rector of the Jesuit seminary in Buenos Aires (1980-1986). According to one faction within a then deeply divided Society of Jesus in Argentina, he introduced lifestyle changes and theology and liturgy materials that put the school back to pre-Vatican II ways and out of step with Jesuit life and studies in the rest of Latin America. According to another, what Bergoglio was doing was introducing young Jesuits to a spirituality of the poor and their popular devotions, leading by personal example. In any case, after his time as rector, he went to Germany for dissertation work, but returned early without completing it. In 1987 he was elected "procurator" to report on his province in Rome, a testimony to the esteem and trust in which he was held. Yet in 1990, he was sent far away to Cordoba and spent two years "in exile"--a move supported by then superior general Peter-Hans Kolvenbach. In 1992, he was made auxiliary bishop, returning to the capital city, and in 1998 he became archbishop of Buenos Aires. 

And according to one interpretation, during this decade, he changed.  "Regular contact with the poorest of the poor in the slums played a part," writes Paul Vallely.  There he learned to see the world differently.  In a shanty town, Communion for the divorced and remarried is not an issue.  Over his 18 years as bishop, he talked personally to at least half the people in the entire slum. "He would just turn up, wander the alleyways, chat with the locals and drink mate . . . ." He didn't see the poor as people he could help but rather as people from whom he could learn.  The man who once saw the poor as objects of philanthropy began to make use of concepts from liberation theology to expose the "unjust economic structures" all around him.  This was exactly the kind of work which, two decades earlier, he had condemned.  Now he found ways of paying homage to "liberation" activists for the courage of their ministry.  He also acted to engage the laity, letting them take charge. All this is rather speculative, and at least in regard to Bergoglio's relationship with the poor, if not with his governance style, unnecessary. Austen Ivereigh, in his biography, contends that he had no need to change; he was always in tune with the poor. And Elisabetta Pique, another 2014 biographer, would agree with this contention.

Returning to Vallely's reading: he is convinced that there was "something more profound at the core of the change in Bergoglio's politics and personality . . ."--his long sessions of daily private prayer.  There he struggled against his authoritarian bent, and over the years the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises re-aligned and refined his instincts. At any rate, one has to be impressed by the amazing freedom and sense of self to be seen in the "Interview" he gave to Jesuit publications. There it is clear that while he never changed his convictions about contraception, abortion, and same-sex marriage and adoption, he would not want doctrines or moral teachings to override the priority of pastoral care for people or be taken as so absolute that the message of God's love and mercy revealed in Jesus is obscured:

The thing that the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle.

A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: Tell me: when God looks at a gay person does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person. We must always consider the person.

The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church's pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.

If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing.
The view of the church's teaching as a monolith to defend without nuance or different understandings is wrong.

The Jorge Bergoglio who was elected pope on March 13, 2013, is a complex man with a complex history. A few days after the election the current Jesuit superior general Adolfo Nicolas and the new pope met and embraced each other in a gesture of brotherhood and reconciliation memorialized in the famous photo at the head of this essay. In the aftermath of the meeting, Nicolas wrote the whole Society of Jesus warning against "distractions from the past" which could "lead us to interpret reality with values that are not inspired by the gospel."

The preceding account has drawn in part on Paul Vallely's rather critical biography, Pope Francis: Untying to Knots (2013), two excerpts from which appeared in The Tablet (10 and 17 August 2013), but also on the more positive reading of Jorge Bergoglio's life by Austen Ivereigh whose 2014 biography verges on hagiography (uncritical adulation)--The Great Reformer (see The Tablet, 13 December 2014). Perhaps the most reliable biography now available in English (a translation from the original Spanish) is Elisabetta Pique's Francis: Life and Revolution (Loyola Press, 2014); it has been most helpful.
The Tablet editorial (23 March 2013)
Dowd, "Ghosts of a dirty war that haunt the pope," The Tablet (13 April 2013) and Quigley, "Complicit? Bergoglio and he Dirty War," Commonweal (12 August 2013) offer contrasting views of Fr. Bergoglio as provincial and can be compared with Pique's presentation.

For treatment of Jorge Bergoglio after he became pope, see Pope Francis