March 17, 2013
Maybe to the new generation of Christian militants accompanying the slum priests, Monseñor Jerónimo Podestá's name doesn't mean much. But those who have been kicking around the barrios a few years know that the dictator Juan Carlos Ongania defined him as his main enemy when in 1967 he filled Luna Park to talk about Populorum Progressio (an act unthinkable and perhaps impossible in the 21st century, a Catholic priest who could convoke a crowd to talk about politics and religion). What is perhaps better known is his struggle for the right of priests to marry, his own resignation from the priesthood to unite with the one who has since been his wife [now widow] and partner, Clelia Luro, and the founding of the Federación Latinoamericana de Sacerdotes Casados y sus Esposas ["Latin American Federation of Married Priests and Their Wives"]. Following the appointment of Jorge Bergoglio at the head of the Vatican, Tiempo Argentino visited Clelia Luro at her home in the Caballito barrio. There, among photos of her partner and memories of the struggle of a lifetime, Luro stated that Francis "will be a great Pope, the Pope who is going to turn the Church around."
When did you get to know Bergoglio?
I got to know him when Jerónimo was sick. Nobody from the Church came near us, but when Bergoglio realized he was hospitalized, he talked to him by phone. And when they moved him into therapy, Bergoglio was in an audience, he put everything aside and came to bring him the anointing of the sick -- which isn't the same as extreme unction. I know what it must have meant to Jerónimo, after all the blows the institution had given him, for a cardinal to accompany him and be praying with him.
And after that episode, did you communicate again with each other?
He would call me every Sunday. Since Jerónimo died, 12 years ago, he has always been attentive.
What did you talk about?
Church and politics. Bergoglio was always a Peronist. It happens that both he and Jerónimo during the period when he was bishop of Avellaneda, are bishops for everyone. Jerónimo also never stated his political opinion publicly. They would come and ask him, "Who are you supporting?", and he would answer "Racing and Independiente [Translator's note: these are two local Argentinian soccer teams]" -- to give the idea that he was bishop of the whole diocese.
What do you think will happen with this Pope?
He's going to turn things around like John XXIII. He has already started making gestures. The first, which had an impact on those who saw it, was when he went out on the balcony in his white caplet and said: "Before giving you the blessing, I'm going to ask you to give it to me." He turned it around, put the people ahead of power. That was in Vatican II.
And with respect to your lifelong fight, celibacy?
The problem with celibacy is that for the Church, it's a cultural problem. The Church acts like a possessive mother who doesn't want her son to marry because when he marries, he starts to be a free man. The Church knows that it would be very hard to handle a group of free men and, for many years, there were those who were afraid of abandoning celibacy because it was part of the culture of the Catholic Church. But that cultural problem isn't there now. Now no one would be shocked by the fact that priests get married. On the contrary, people today don't understand why they can't be like everyone else.
Do you think Bergoglio's going to raise the issue?
I think it's going to be very hard for him to do it, although I know very well what he thinks and what he wants, because he's talked a lot with me, I've sent him a lot of the married priests' material and I know perfectly that he has behaved very well with his married priests -- he's helped them find work, get a house, things the institution doesn't do. It sends them out into the street.
Why do you think they elected him Pope?
He didn't want to stay over there. So much that he had a roundtrip ticket. He thought he would come back on the 23rd and he had already asked to do mission work in a nursing home. He liked being with the people, not power. But when he saw that there were four days of black smoke, he told me, "I'm going to have to accept because, if not, they're never going to agree." And one can see that he accepted it as a crucifixion, as a new commitment. That's why he has that serene, almost contented face -- one of joy, because of feeling that he's fulfilling God's will.
Do you think he'll be a good pope?
A very good pope. I don't know if it was the lightning that fell on the Vatican, the dove that flew out or the signs that there were, but he's the pope we need.
"Verbitsky doesn't like the Catholic Church"
Clelia Luro is very angry at the accusations that have rained down on the current pope about his complicity with the dictatorship.
"Horacio Verbitsky wanted to destroy him with that story that he had turned the priests over to the military. As an Argentinian, I feel ashamed of the things that are being said about Pope Francis. It's Verbitsky's obsession to destroy him, because he doesn't like the Catholic Church, but he's wrong. When he strikes Bergoglio, he's not striking the right-wing of the Church but he's hitting the social ministry, the opposition to the right-wing within the institution. With the same notion, now he's striking at Monseñor José María Arancedo. But Arancedo's a very good person and he doesn't have to speak ill of him," says Clelia.
Did you ever talk about the case of the priests Orlando Yorio y Francisco Jalics?
Sure. This is how it was: He was the head of the Jesuit province. Those two priests were fighting in the Flores slum. He warned them that they were marked, that they ought to leave, and they didn't heed him, they went on and the soldiers detained them. Then they say that Bergoglio had meetings with Emilio Massera, and in fact he talked with Massera to get them out of the country. Now, Yorio died in Uruguay convinced that Bergoglio had given them up, though the most serious thing one could say is that Bergoglio didn't help them when in fact he did what a provincial had to do -- he warned them. Now, Jalics came to Buenos Aires, celebrated a mass with Bergoglio, everything was fine and then, when the reporters ask him what happened during the dictatorship, he says "I'm not commenting on this matter." That's outrageous to me.