By Fabiana Frayssinet (English translation by Rebel Girl)
March 18, 2013
RÍO DE JANEIRO -- Brazilian theologian Leonard Boff, a proponent of the progressive line in the Latin American Catholic Church, doesn't believe the denunciations that describe the new Pope Francis as a collaborator with the last Argentina dictatorship.
In an interview with IPS, Boff admits that it's a "controversial subject," with contradictory versions. But he prefers to trust the outpourings of notorious defenders of human rights in Argentina, who are denying any link between Jorge Bergoglio, who was elected pope by the Vatican, and the military regime that Argentina endured from 1976 to 1983.
Boff, a key figure in liberation theology, looks forward with hope and trusts that Francis will live up to his status as a Jesuit and be "energetic and radical" against the epidemic of pedophilia and corruption that currently plague the Catholic leadership.
IPS: How do your interpret the "decentralization" that having elected a Latin American pope implies?
LEONARDO BOFF: The central Church, that is, the Vatican and the European churches, felt humiliated and embarassed by theembarrassed scandals created within their own walls. So they chose someone from outside, with a different spirit and another style to lead the Church.
Sixty percent of Catholics live in the Third World. It was time to listen better to those churches. They are no longer mirror-churches of Europe but source-churches, with their own face and ways of organizing themselves, generally in networks of communities.
For me, the name "Francis" is more than a name; it's a plan for a poor Church, one that is close to the people, gospel-centered, loving and protective towards nature which is being devastated today. Saint Francis is the archetype of that type of Church. With Pope Francis, a Church of the third millenium is being inaugurated -- far from the palaces and in the midst of the peoples and their cultures.
IPS: To what do you attribute the preference for Bergoglio against Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Scherer?
LB: Scherer was the candidate of the Vatican, where he had worked and made many friends. But he publicly defended the Curia and the Vatican Bank, which have been criticized by everyone, including many cardinals. That unleashed a public argument, which burned him. Moreover, he wouldn't have been good for the current situation in the Church. He's conservative and authoritarian. He would have been a Benedict XVII.
IPS: Bergoglio's election was criticized because of his alleged complicity in the kidnapping of two Jesuit priests during the dictatorship.
LB: I know that, in general, the Argentine Church wasn't prophetic in denouncing state terrorism. Despite that, there were bishops like (Enrique) Angelleli, who died in a sinister way, (Jorge) Novak, (Jaime) De Nevares, and Jerónimo Podestá, among others, who were clearly critical.
But with respect to Bergoglio, I prefer to believe Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Nobel peace prize winner, and the former member of the Comisión Nacional sobre la Desaparición de Personas (Graciela Fernández Meijide) who have called that accusation libelous. They never found Bergoglio's name even once in the documents and complaints.
On the contrary, he saved many people by hiding them in the Colegio Máximo de San Miguel. Furthermore, it goes against his character which is already known, as a man who is both strong and tender, a poor man who has continuously denounced the existing social injustices in Argentina and the need for justice and not just philanthropy.
Finally, what matters isn't Bergoglio and his past, but Francis and his future.
IPS: Why did you ignore this issue in your initial statements?
LB: It's a controversial matter and one has to know it well. The versions are contradictory. I don't talk about things I'm not clear about. And I'm wondering what interest some groups have in raising this question and not talking about the serious crisis in the Church and its meaning in the face of the crisis of humankind.
Maybe -- this I'll concede -- he could have been more prophetic, like Bishop Hélder Câmara and Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns were in Brazil. But here the state is secular and separate from the Church. In Argentina, Catholicism is the state religion, which makes it hard but doesn't keep there from being resistance and denunciations from part of the Church.
IPS: Isn't omission a sin?
LB: The question isn't to answer whether or not it's a sin. That's a religious issue. The question is political and for me it's which side the person is on -- the side of the poor, of those who suffer evil inequality? Or of the status quo that wants unlimited growth and a culture of consumption? In 1990, four percent of Argentinians were poor. Now it's 33 percent (according to unofficial measurements).
Bergoglio took the side of those victims and demanded social justice. If we don't understand this, we're getting away from the main point.
IPS: You attributed his choice of the name Francis to the "demoralization" of a "Church in ruins" because of various scandals. How should that name be expressed in practice?
LB: He has given signs of a different type of papacy, without symbols of power or privileges. A pope who pays his bills at the hotel, who goes in a simple car to pray at the Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica and secretly visits his friend, Cardinal Jorge Mejía, who fell ill in Rome..., they're acts that the people understand.
I'm sure that with respect to the pedophiles and the financial crimes, he'll be more Jesuit than Franciscan, energetic and radical, because the Church can't go on as it is.
IPS: The new pope thought he saw "the hand of the Devil" in issues like the decriminalization of abortion and homosexual marriage in Argentina and he has confronted the government because of this. Should we anticipate a pope who is equally or more conservative on these doctrinal issues?
LB: These subjects are prohibited by the Vatican. Nobody would be able to stray from the official position. I hope that Francis, as pope, would enable a broad discussion of all these issues, because they're part of the real life of the people and the new culture that is emerging, especially the problem of celibacy and sexual morality.
This doesn't mean that the Church would renounce its fundamental positions, but that it would discuss them democratically and would have to respect what is democratically decided. The good thing about democracy is that it prevents top-down impositions and allows different opinions to be heard, even if they don't prove to be winning ones.