Give unto every Caesar…

March 13th of 2013 saw Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio become Pope Francis and the 266th head of Roman Catholic Church and the Vatican city-State. Amidst euphoric celebrations of a first ‘Latin American’ and ‘humble slum loving’ humanist becoming a Pope, his past also slowly started surfacing.

It was the broken heart of shunned lover that propelled Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to devote his life to the service of Catholic Church. Of course a puppy love and subsequent rejection is a far better, far more humane experience than a stint at Hitler Youth Nazi indoctrination camp as was the case of his predecessor ex-Pope Benedict XVI. However the real problematic past of the present Pope is something he did as part of the Church. He was then in his thirties. He was the leader of Argentina’s Jesuits. During the period 1976-1983 military junta that ruled Argentina launched what is today known as ‘Dirty War’ against its leftist opponents. The regime kidnapped and killed thousands of people including children to eliminate its leftist opponents.

Even later Bergoglio instead of facing the trial fairly, took sanctuary under an Argentine law refusing to appear in open court. The trials involved nothing less than torture and murder inside what was then the torture cathedral of the regime – the dreaded Navy Mechanics School. The trial also involved the theft of babies from detainees. It was only in 2010 at last he cooperated to stand trial and even then according to human rights attorney Myriam Bregman, his answers were evasive. Here what Sergio Rubin the author of the official hagiography of the present Pope says is very important. According to him what happened during ‘dirty war’ was more a failure of the Roman Catholic Church in general, than that of Bergoglio as an individual.

What Rubin says can be very much and very possibly true.

Catholic Church has had a propensity to collaborate with the worst type of dictatorships the humanity ever had the misfortune to suffer under and more importantly benefit from such associations. Vatican city-state itself owes its existence in its present form to the Lateran Treaty signed between Fascist regime and the Church. In January 2013 ‘The Guardian’ unearthed a vast global financial empire that the Catholic Church has built thanks to its association with the Fascist regime. ‘The Guardian’ report shows how the church’s international portfolio has been built up over the years, using cash originally handed over by Mussolini in return for papal recognition of the Italian fascist regime in 1929. The report which is ‘understandable’ about the Church’s relation to the Fascist regime during wartime, is baffled over why still the Church is silent about the way it builds its financial strength from its ill-gotten riches through Fascist association.

Catholic Church also supported the notorious regime of Francisco Franco in Spain. Pope Pius XII himself declared Spain and Portugal under dictatorship as ‘an ideal society’. The support that Church gave was in turn able to get Catholic Christianity declared as the official religion of the Spanish state in the new Concordat of 1953. For this the Church did not hesitate to give Franco regime the privilege of appointing the diocesan bishops. The Church dissociated itself from the Franco’s regime only after the death of Franco in 1973. It was the Church support that preserved Franco regime in the post-Hitlerian Europe. In return to this support for Franco regime the Church became an institutional component of Franco government holding important cabinet seats including the foreign ministry.

In 1933 the much acclaimed Catholic theologian Michael Schmaus of Germany wrote a book titled ‘Meeting between Catholic Christianity and National Socialist Worldview’ wherein he drew parallel between the authoritative nature of the Nazi government and that of Papacy: “Nowhere is the value and meaning of authority so conspicuous as in our holy Catholic Church” It was also the same year Hitler signed the concordat with the Vatican. Nazi regime assured the Church that the Catholic religious education would be maintained in schools and church property would be protected; Church run schools would be expanded and Catholic theological faculties would be maintained in state universities. Vatican assured Hitler the international prestige he sought by signing the Concordat with him. Ten years later in 1943 more than 1,000 Jews were rounded up from Rome and deported to Auschwitz. Documentary evidence in the Vatican archives indicates that Pope Pius XII knew of the deportation and did not act to stop it.

Argentina’s early post-War history itself is muddied by the alleged Vatican role in helping many Nazi war criminals get settled in Argentina. According to Gerald Steinacher, a research fellow at Harvard University through the Vatican Refugee Commission, Nazi war criminals were knowingly provided with false identities. It is interesting that 90% of ex-Nazis fled through Italy, mostly to Spain, and North and South America – particularly Argentina: all nation-states that had considerable influence of Catholic Church. There are allegations that the Church also financially benefited by this.

The current Pope’s history of colluding with the Argentinian dictatorship has to be seen in this historic light. Even in a more striking parallel the collective ‘Mea Culpa’ issued by the Church in October 2012 for the church’s moral and spiritual failure tactically blamed equally the violence of ‘dirty war’ on both the junta and its enemies. This was not unlike the Church’s much publicized apology for its on action during Holocaust. Here the Church put the blame on pagans rather than own up and exorcize the anti-semitism which is an integral part of Christian theology that gave two thousand years of fertile ground conducive for the Nazi holocaust.

The pattern is clear: collaborate with the worst dictatorships; benefit financially and build transnational business empires and repent only when the association becomes a liability in terms of marketing the savoir. Did Jesus also say ‘Give unto every Führer his due in terms of human lives and human rights for I came not to bring peace but torture chambers’

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Aravindan Neelakandan

Co-author of acclaimed book "Breaking India", Aravindan Neelakandan has worked for the past decade with an NGO in Tamil Nadu serving marginalized rural communities in sustainable agriculture. He is also a popular science writer in Tamil and is part of the editorial team of highly popular Tamil web portal

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