Bergoglio, Jorge Mario (1936- ) continued

In the next six years, relations between the provincial and his men were often 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". The previous provincial had moved swiftly to initiate Vatican II-inspired reforms, and some vocal discontented Jesuits succeeded in having him removed; he was replaced by Fr. Bergoglio.  The latter, too, acted with dispatch, but without consultation.  As one Jesuit put it simply, "he caused a lot of problems." Perhaps the worst, biographer Paul Vallely writes, involved two Jesuit priests who had been encouraged to work with the poor in the barrios.  Bergoglio ordered them out and when they refused forced them from the Society, leaving them vulnerable to the death squads who took their expulsion as a sign they were subversives and kidnapped and tortured them nearly to death. "He has been doing penance for his stubborn arrogance and recklessness with the men ever since", Vallely claims.  Further, he and higher church officials continue to be criticized for not speaking out publicly against the regime's atrocities.  For example, hundreds of pregnant women in detention centers were murdered after they delivered, their babies given to "deserving" families of the military.  During  these terrible years, Provincial Bergoglio "was neither a martyr nor a coward" (Tablet editorial), but by his own admission his "authoritarian way of making decisions created problems" (Jesuit "Interview").

After his time as provincial, Fr. Bergoglio taught theology and was rector of the Jesuit seminary in Buenos Aires.  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.  Continuing to act as if he had the power even after his terms of office were over, he was shipped far away (400 miles) to Cordoba (1985) and then to doctoral studies in Germany (1986-89). 

Three years after he returned, he was made auxiliary bishop and in 1998 archbishop of Buenos Aires; and 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.

Remarkable as all this was, Vallely 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.  The modest and simple lifestyle that he adopted in his identification with the poor is one indication of this inner spiritual transformation.   Another is the amazing  freedom one can see 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."

Much of the preceding account was taken from Paul Vallely's biography, Pope Francis: Untying the Knots (2013), two key excerpts from which appeared in The Tablet (10 and 17 August 2013). See also Vallely in The Tablet (28 September 2013).
Segio Rubin & Francesca Ambrogetti, Pope Francis: The Authorized Biography?Conversations with Jorge Bergoglio (2013). The Tablet Editorial (23 March 2013)
Dowd, "Ghosts of a dirty war that haunt the pope," The Tablet (13 April 2013).
Quigley, "Complicit? Bergoglio and the Dirty War," Commonweal  (August 12, 2013), offers a view of Fr. Bergoglio and the two Jesuits who were kidnapped and tortured different from Vallely's.
Catholic News Service website on Pope Francis

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