Saturday, April 6, 2013

Fr. Antonio Puigjané: "I think Francis will address celibacy"

I have translated this interview in an ongoing effort to present credible testimony, especially from the left-wing of the Argentine Catholic Church, about Pope Francis. And because the life of this Capuchin priest friar, who spent 10 years in jail on trumped-up charges stemming from his human rights work, is interesting in and of itself. -- RG

 By Gabriel Giubellino (English translation by Rebel Girl)
El Tiempo Argentino
March 24, 2013

In a modest room in the infirmary of Nuestra Señora del Rosario in Pompeya, Father Antonio Puigjané received the reporter. Despite his 84 years and the stroke that forces him to move around in a wheelchair, he's excited to talk about Pope Francis and the Church he has served all his life in the Order of Capuchin Friars Minor.

Did Bergoglio's election as Pope surprise you?

It pleasantly surprised me because I think he's a humble man, very intelligent, and I think he's going to bring honor to the name he gave himself, Francis, a man who renewed the relationship with Christ, making the Church look and go in a different direction. I think that with time Pope Francis will achieve many important changes that are needed in the Church. Especially this closeness to the people, to people, to the poorest, which is one of Bergoglio's traits.

How is your relationship with him? Were you in close contact?

Very close, he likes me a lot too. I think he likes me because I was a prisoner for 10 years in the Caseros jail. He has a predilection for those who got into those situations.

Did he support you while you were in prison?

He wrote me several times.

What did he say in those letters?

He cheered me up. And with that tiny handwriting he had, he'd put at the bottom: "Pray for me."

That's what he said in Vatican Square. Did you talk with him before he traveled to the conclave?

A few days before, I talked to him by phone and to tease him, I said, "So you're gonna be Pope now?" He died laughing.

Did he have any expectation or indication that he would be Pope?

I think he might have felt something deep down, but I don't think he thought he would be Pope.

In your opinion, what are Bergoglio's virtues? Why do you think they elected him?

The main one is humility. He is a very humble and very intelligent man. Now, he is by nature a rather right-wing man, a conservative -- in his youth he was in the Iron Guard. I knew him in that period, but not as closely as now. And you could already see the debate. The progressive bishops and the reactionary bishops, who were always a majority.

So what happened? Do you think there was a transformation in him?

Basically he's the same, but little by little that contact with the poor, which he had intensely, was surely what transformed him. And I think he'll go on. Look how he escaped to greet the people, to visit the sick...

Did you read Horacio González's statements? He talks about these attitudes of Francis as demagoguery. A dissonant voice these days when the Pope has won over so many people.

I didn't know. You must have read too much Verbitsky (laughs), because Verbitsky hates him viciously, as I see it. He's poisoned, and that makes him exaggerate and only see one side. He doesn't see at all what Bergoglio says, that he tried to protect (Orlando) Yorio and (Francisco) Jalics. And Jalics says he doesn't have anything against Bergoglio.

The process of taking "ownership" of the figure of the Pope has been notable. From the billboards that claimed him as "Argentine and a Peronist" to the New York Times, which interpreted him as the Pope of the Americas. Many people seem to be saying: he's one of mine.

What matters is that people take him seriously for themselves. It gives me a lot of comfort to see the joy of the poor. Did you see how they jumped and screamed in the Cathedral, cheering the Pope? That's never happened and it's very significant. The voice of the people.

That's a phrase of Bishop Enrique Angelelli. He said one should have one ear on the people...

...and the other on the Gospel. That's essential. I think Bergoglio does, and in the end the poor will convert him completely. When he has to make serious decisions, I think he'll lean on that.

You've stated that the Vatican did everything to cover up Angelelli's death.

More than the Vatican, our bishops, because the Vatican is very far away. We'll see if this Pope will do something now. He went to La Rioja and said that Angelelli was a bishop in love with his people. I don't remember him saying that he was assassinated. On the other hand, Luis (Coscia, a priest) told me yesterday that yes, he had said that Angelelli was a martyr. And if he's a martyr, it's because he was assassinated. That made me very happy. And it's in the news that they say he's going to promote the beatification process of Carlos Murias. There's no doubt that they were destroyed by gunfire from the security forces.

What decisions should Francis make in the Vatican?

Take apart that sort of Mafia that exists among the cardinals. The Vatican is a circus and he has to take that apart little by little. He's already begun. There've been some gestures already. Very subtly, intelligently. I tried to watch when he greeted the cardinals. He treated all of them with great affection, but at the same time he ought to be wary of them. Because, taken together, they're a sort of huge Mafia that doesn't even come close to Jesus' plan. And I think Pope Francis wants to go back to Jesus' plan, like Saint Francis of Assisi. It's very hard, because the anti-power...He has said that the real power is the power of service, and it's true. Jesus even gave his life to serve.

What influence will the election of this Argentine pope have on politics and society?

I think he'll touch the hearts of many. He touched Cristina's [Argentina President Cristina Kirchner] heart; she seemed completely in love. They treated each other with an affection that was good to see.

Do you know Cristina personally?

No, but I like her because of what she's doing. She's doing everything she can to get us to be a country of brothers and sisters.

Getting back to the Pope's job, he knows the struggle of Jerónimo Podestá and his wife Clelia Luro for the possibility of priests being able to have mates. Might there be a chance that he's thinking about something like that?

I think so. I know that before, he blessed and kept priests who had women companions and children in their ministry. Quietly, you see, without making a fuss, because there were those on the other side who were looking at him with inquisitorial eyes, to get on him for the slightest slip.

Were you aware of that?

Yes, I was aware of that.

So you have hope with Francis in the Vatican.

He's a good man, humble, poor. I have hope that Francis will change things, that he'll be looking for opportunities to make the huge change that needs to be made there. I think he'll address priestly celibacy too. On women's participation, I don't think he'll do so much. But that might happen too. Because of what he's done, I think it could.

Changes that Benedict XVI couldn't or didn't want to make?

His way of being itself and his thought was very tied to what came before. But I think his resignation was a lovely gesture.

When it was just learned that Bergoglio was elected, there were reactions. In fact, he was the same person who opposed same-sex marriage.

Marriage equality.

And who didn't support sexual and reproductive health policies. There was even a political perspective quickly. To put it crudely, that the empire put him in to put the brakes on the union of the Americas that was in progress. Something like: he came to break down Latin American brotherhood.

Who said that?

Luis D´Elía.

How strange of "el Gordo"! I don't think so, on the contrary. If you saw with what affection he greeted Rafael Correa at the Vatican. And Correa can't be mistaken for someone else. He greeted him with a lot of affection too.

Let's talk about your time in prison. Even though you were detained, you offered Mass with a chalice that the Pallarols [a family of gold and silversmiths in Buenos Aires] had made.

A precious chalice, that Luis (Coscia) has. Each of them made a little bit of it, as they told me.

You've always said that the attack on La Tablada barracks was a mistake.

A terrible mistake that I didn't know at all until the moment of the event itself. The real reason they sent me to jail was for having accompanied the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in the plaza, which I did for several years enthusiastically and devotedly. I thought it was almost more important than participating in a Mass. At first they went overboard and wanted to convict me as a participant in the takeover. And then they brought in witnesses who saw fantasies, like a sort of superman running all over the barracks from end to end, shooting crazily with a machine gun. And I could barely walk in those days. Now, with the stroke, nothing anymore. I had been operated on and was barely moving. However, they said outrageous things. It was so exaggerated that it became impossible to maintain. So they changed the accusation and made me an ideological participant in the takeover of La Tablada.

So you were in for 10 years.

I went in when I was 60 and got out the day I turned 70, on June 13, 1999. That day, they put me under house arrest. I went to Coghlan and there my good friend Luis Coscia received me. The one who didn't celebrate was the pastor, who didn't want me to appear anywhere, out of embarrassment. To those who wanted to take me out for anything, he would say, "No, Antonio's a prisoner; he has to be in his cell."

How did the Church behave towards you during this whole process?

The order had a good attitude; it didn't do anything against me and it allowed the brothers to visit me. Luis Coscia behaved like a real brother -- he got permission for a weekly interview -- it was a spiritual visit or something like that -- that any prisoner can get if he asks. With that authorization, he visited me every week. Other brothers didn't look so favorably on it, but they didn't stop him. Now, I was convinced that the penal system had stopped me from saying Mass, but Luis said no, that it was Cardinal Aramburu. He told the penal system I couldn't celebrate Mass.

But you celebrated Mass anyway.

Yes, but individually, at 3 in the morning, the only time I could do it peacefully, with the spiritual presence of everyone -- friends and enemies, I invited everybody in my heart to participate in the celebration. When I told Bergoglio this, it impressed him a lot. Everything to do with prayer moves him a lot.

Do you still see people from the MTP ["Movimiento Todos por la Patria" -- "All For the Motherland" Movement, a political organization]?

The last one to talk to me was Joaquín, one of those who quickly realized that La Tablada was a mistake. Because they thought they had done a heroic act. They believed that after the conviction, everyone was going to come and congratulate us, welcome us as heroes. But (he laughs) it wasn't like that; it earned everyone's repudiation. A fair repudiation, not of the comrades, but of the deed, which was Gorriarán's idea. He took them to that slaughterhouse.

Gorriarán never repented.

He continued to maintain that it was necessary to fight the soldiers, so that they wouldn't repeat a military coup.

Did you argue about that with each other?

No. I saw him, I visited him, but I didn't get to talk about that. I'm sure he was doing it out of conviction. He argued that La Tablada wasn't going back to armed struggle, but stopping the military. But obviously, stopping the military that way, was gong back to arms. Because they run on weapons. Later when he got out and started to manipulate the comrades again, I broke off with him. I never saw him again, not even when he died.

Tell me something about your life here in Pompeya. Do you celebrate Mass?

When Luis comes, we celebrate right here, in this room, which is part of the infirmary.

Do you go out in the street?

Saturday, I'm going to go to a demonstration in Lanús, for 30 thousand reasons, for memory, for truth, justice, that a group of Peronist young people is organizing.

His father's 1972 disappearance

Juan Daniel Puigjané, Antonio's father, disappeared in 1972. "It was September 8th, poor old guy, he was 70 years old. He thought like I did. Basically he disappeared because the militants thought that, like me, he was a subversive, which is what Monseñor Plaza, who threw us out of Mar del Plata, used to say. At that time, Papa, thinking we were sad, started to visit us on weekends in a house we had in San Miguel. He was seen a lot with us; he had a very beautiful nature. And one of those time, when he got back to his home in Caballito, when he went to buy avocados in a little market, four men put him in a car and sped off. That was the last news; we never heard of him again."

Was any court case opened?

What would there have been in those days? He was one of the first of the disappeared. I think they interrogated him, they wanted to rush him along with some kind of cattle prod torture and since he had heart problems, he must have died on them. And in those days the most effective way to make things simpler, or rather, to put a lid on them forever, was to make his corpse disappear. He disappeared and ciao. And you know how I know some of the details? When they killed Angelelli, the police went to see the bishop who was still in charge and they told him that if he wanted to save my life, he would get me out of La Rioja because they wouldn't answer for my life. And they gave him a letter I had written to my father that he always carried in his pocket. It amused him and he read it often. Because of that letter, the police concluded I was a subversive. Basically, they were right. (laughs)

What did that letter say?

It was very Franciscan, joyful, telling him about the things Monseñor Plaza had done when he came to Mar del Plata as apostolic administrator. The letter talked about everything that was happening, and the soldiers thought that was subversive.

Did you keep that letter?

No. Rubiolo -- that was the bishop's name -- gave it to my superiors. They brought it to Buenos Aires, but it disappeared here. It would be lovely to read it now. I'm sure it wasn't subversive at all.

What did you do at that time?

I prayed. I was satisfied with praying. I didn't have the courage or the intelligence of the Mothers to go out and fight then. And in addition to prayer, you have to move. Prayer and action have to go together.

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