By Concha Lago (English translation by Hermano Juancito and Rebel Girl)
Diario de Noticias de Gipuzkoa
March 16, 2013
Jon Sobrino, Basque but universal, and a symbol of liberation theology, usually touches the heart. Distant from the pomp and paraphernalia of the Vatican, his comments have earned him more than one reprimand. Today he speaks for the first time about the new pope and does so loudly and clearly.
Jon Sobrino (Barcelona, 1938) is the Quijote of the disinherited, a theologian who takes the wrapping paper off of life to present its starkness. But to speak as Sobrino does, with an anti-imperialist spirituality, irritates many, above all the Roman Inquisitors. In a very clear but politically incorrect discourse, he assails the spectacle of the election of a new pope. "The sumptuous display was shocking, far from the simplicity of Jesus," he says. And, without mincing words, he states that “Bergoglio, Superior of the Argentinian Jesuits during the years of the worst repression of the civic-military genocide, had a falling out with the Popular Church which was committed to the poor. He was no Romero," Sobrino stresses.
You've dismissed the papal election as "media folklore."
St. Peter’s Square was mobbed with people of all races and colors, with a variety of banners, with expectant and smiling faces. The façade of the church was decorated with calculated refinement. One saw people wearing dressy episcopal garments which aren't seen in the streets of real life, on campesinos or women in the market. "Folklore", in English -- "traditional costumes" -– prevailed, although in St. Peter’s Square the costumes were more sophisticated and dressed up than those of the people in [my] native Spain or in the rural cantons of El Salvador, where I'm living.
Is that bad?
No. None of that was bad, but it didn't say anything significant about who was going to be the next pope, what joys and problems he would have, and what cross he was going to bear...Yes, the lavish display, far from the simplicity of Jesus, was shocking. And I sensed a certain boastfulness in the organizers as if to say that everything is going well. When that perfection also expresses power, I usually call it the ministry of apotheosis.
But not everything was folkloric.
No. There was something not folkloric even from the first day. I'm talking about the simple garments of the pope, the small cross on his chest without gold, or silver, or shining jewels, his prayer in which, bowing, he asked the people [to bless him] before blessing them. These are small but clear signs. Let's hope they grow into big signs and go along with his mission. His simplicity and humility were evident.
The election of Bergoglio was a complete surprise.
Yes, to the uninitiated, it was a surprise and a great novelty. The Pope is Argentinian, the first pope from that country. He's a Jesuit, the first pope from that order. Both things could be trivialized, as has happened in some news reports. Therefore, one must understand this well. Messi is Argentinian, but not all Argentinians are stars. Pedro Arrupe was a Jesuit, but -– and here I’m talking about something more serious –- not all the Jesuits are like him. Mentally lazy headlines without much wit like "Argentinian and Jesuit" are also folkloric. Don’t they have anything else to say? Moreover, folkloric media moments don't last long. It's sad to sustain them or continue to add insignificant details without going into the fundamental aspects of the matter, such as the Pope, the Church, God and us. Whether what is folkloric continues to be what is most served up, depends on the owners of the media -- and the spectators.
These days, you've spoken with people who know Bergoglio up close.
Yes. I'm not an expert on the life, work, joys, and sufferings of Bergoglio. And so as not to fall into any type of irresponsibility, I've tried to connect with individuals in Argentina, whom I won't quote, above all those who've had direct contact with him. I hope for understanding because what I'm going to say is limited and I apologize for any errors I might commit. Bergoglio is a Jesuit who has held important posts in the province of Argentina. He has been a professor of theology, a superior and a provincial. It isn't hard to talk about his external work. But of the more internal, one can speak only delicately and now respectfully and responsibly. Many companions have spoken of him as a person with deep convictions and temperament, a resolute and relentless fighter. "If they make him pope, he will clean up the Curia," it has been said humorously.
His austerity has been highlighted.
Also, they remember him for his boundless interest in communicating to others his convictions about the Society of Jesus, an interest which could become possessiveness, even to the point of demanding loyalty to his person. Many recall his austerity of life, as a Jesuit, archbishop, and cardinal. Examples of this are his residence and his proverbial travelling by bus. When he was bishop, many priests remember how he was close to them and how he offered to stand in for them in their parish work when they needed to go away to rest. The austerity of life was accompanied by a real interest in the poor, the indigenous, trade union members who were attacked; this led him to firmly defend them in the face of successive governments. Moral issues have been very dear to him, and certainly abortion, which led him to directly confront the president of the country.
Did they recall his option for the poor?
In all that, one can appreciate his specific way of making an option for the poor. Not in actively going out and risking himself in their defense during the time of repression of the criminal military dictatorships. The complicity of the church hierarchy with the dictators is known. Bergoglio was superior of the Jesuits in Argentina from 1973 to 1979, during the years of major repression of the civil-military genocide.
Are you talking about complicity?
It doesn’t seem fair to speak of complicity, but it seems correct to say that in those circumstances Bergoglio distanced himself from the Popular Church which was committed to the poor. He wasn’t a Romero -- celebrated for his defense of human rights and assassinated while exercising his pastoral ministry. I don’t have enough knowledge, and I say this with the fear of being mistaken. Bergoglio didn't present the image of Monseñor Angelleli, an Argentinian bishop who was assassinated by the military in 1976. Very possibly, it did occur in his heart, but he wasn't used to bringing out in public the living memory of Leonidas Proaño, Monseñor Juan Gerardi, Sergio Méndez...
However, he also has a pronounced solidarity side.
Yes. On the other hand, since 1998, as archbishop of Buenos Aires, he has accompanied the poorly treated sectors of the big city in various ways -– and with concrete deeds. One eye witness talks about how, on the first anniversary of the Cromagnon tragedy [when a fire during a rock concert took the lives of 200 young people], Bergoglio was present and forcibly demanded justice for the victims. He used prophetic language at times. He denounced the evils that grind the flesh of the people and he named them specifically: human trafficking, slave labor, prostitution, drug-trafficking, and many others. For some, perhaps the greatest virtue and the greatest strength for carrying out his present papal ministry is that Bergoglio is a man who is open to dialogue with the marginalized from their suffering. He has gone along decisively with church processes on the margins of the Catholic Church and processes that are happening at the edge of legality. Two significant examples are the deanery of slum priests in marginal neighborhoods and his support for priests who are going about without a worthy ministry.
What awaits Pope Francis?
God only knows. The new pope will have thought well about what awaits him and about what he ought to do, what he will be able to and what he wishes to do. Now we could enumerate some tasks which appear important to us here in El Salvador and which could be important for everyone in the Church. We ought to carry them out too, but the pope has a greater responsibility and let's hope he has greater means. The tasks match those that José Ignacio González Faus recently proposed.
What's the most urgent one?
The first -- I believe the greatest dream -- is to make John XIII's dream a reality: The Church is in a special way the Church of the Poor. This didn't succeed in the hall of Vatican II, and so about forty bishops met outside the hall and in the Catacombs of Saint Domitila signed the manifesto which has been called the Pact of the Catacombs.
You always point out the Church's lack of sensitivity.
As many say, Bergoglio is sensitive toward the poor. Would that he had the lucidity to make the Church of the Poor real, and that the Church would cease to be a Church of abundance, of the bourgeois and the rich. He won't lack enemies, just as after Medellín there wasn't a lack for the many hierarchs who did put the poor at the center of the Church. The enemies were within the church curias and very strong within the world of wealth and power. The latter killed thousands of Christians.
It's impossible to forget Monseñor Romero, a Latin American martyr.
Let's hope Pope Francis isn't frightened of a Church that is persecuted and martyred, like the churches of Monseñor Romero and Monseñor Gerardi. Whether or not he canonizes them, let's hope he proclaims that the martyrs, speaking of them specifically as martyrs of justice, are the best that we have in the Church. This is what makes her like Jesus of Nazareth. For that, it's not essential that he canonize Monseñor Romero, although that would be a good sign. And, if the pope falls into any type of human weakness, may it be being proud of his Latin American homeland, suffering and hopeful, martyred and always on the verge of resurrection. And being proud of a whole generation of bishops: Leónidas Proaño, Helder Camara, Aloysius Lorscheider, Samuel Ruiz...They didn't become popes, most of them not even cardinals. But from them, we live.
And what can you tell me of the problems that are shaking up the church and that appear in the media?
The second dream is to face the known constellation of problems inside the organization of the Church which are waiting to be solved. For example, the urgent reform of the Roman Curia. It's also necessary that the members of the Curia should preferably be lay people. Likewise it's important that Rome let the local churches choose their pastors. That all the symbols of power and worldly honor should disappear from the papal environment, and certainly that the successor of Peter stop being a head of state, since this would have made Jesus ashamed. It's necessary that the whole Church see the present separation of the Christian faiths as an offense against God. We must ask the Pope that Rome resolve the problem of Catholics whose first marriage failed and who have found stability in a second union. And, of course, priestly celibacy should be reconsidered.
You don't neglect other classic demands either.
I do have three other concerns. On the one hand, that once and for all we fix the untenable situation of women in the Church. Also that we stop undervaluing, and at times despising, the indigenous world -- the Mapuche of South America and all those the pope will get to know in his travels through Africa, Asia, and Latin America. And, of course, that we learn to love Mother Earth.
All this with a firm commitment that has to do a lot with what has happened these days.
Yes. The commitment ought to be that the new pope on the balcony of St. Peter’s and the millions in the square not become a great actor -- the Pope -- and mere box-office spectators -- the faithful.