Monday, September 30, 2013

“Bergoglio’s List”:How Francis saved dissidents from Argentina’s military dictatorship

Bergoglio before FrancisMany of Bergoglio’s friends couldn’t make any sense out of it: “Why doesn’t he respond? Why doesn’t he tell everyone the truth so all these lies can stop?” Fr. José Maria “Pepe” di Paola kept on asking.  

Fr. Pepe coordinates priests in the villas miserias, Buenos Aires’ slums. 

The priest was referring to the slanderous comments a left-wing journalist had been making against Bergoglio for years, to the immense joy of ultra-right wing movements. 

The journalist accused him of collaborating with the military dictatorship and facilitating the arrest of two fellow Jesuits Francisco Jalics and Orlando Yorio, who were in turn accused of being subversive “communists”.

No sooner had Bergoglio been elected Pope on 13 March than blogs and newspapers started firing accusations at him, in a hungry attempt to find embarrassing material on Peter’s successor. 

On the very evening of Francis’ election, Nello Scavo, a journalist for Italian Catholic daily Avvenire started looking into the stories circulating on the web about the Pope having allegedly complicit with the Argentinian dictatorship. Scavo had no premeditated theories to prove and no hagiographical intentions. 

As a journalist whop focused on legal  and judicial issues, he knew that if he could prove the accusations against the newly elected Pope were true, he would be in for a huge scoop. He also knew that an honest reconstruction of the facts leaves no room for censorship and prejudices.
It was on that special evening that Scavo began the long investigation described in his book “La Lista di Bergoglio salvati da Francesco durante la dittatura”(“Bergoglio's List: Those Saved by Pope Francis; Stories Never Told”), published in Italian only by missionary publishing house Emi. The book which has been written in the style of an interview is out in bookstores tomorrow. 

The fast-paced text includes an appendix with a transcript of the 2010 testimony Bergoglio gave during a nearly four-hour court interrogation on the crimes committed in the Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada (ESMA) the Navy School of Mechanics that operated during Argentina’s military dictatorship.

The suspicions and lies surrounding Bergoglio’s actions that were circulating in those first few days of his pontificate, in a blind and universal copy-pasting frenzy, turned out to hold no water. The only living Jesuit of the two who had been presented as Bergoglio’s victims denied everything. 

The journalist who had made the accusations admitted that Jalics’ words had let Bergoglio off the hook once and for all. 

But Nello Scavo’s investigation had already started by this point. Following the false clue offered by the manipulated dossiers that were built up against Bergoglio Scavo didn’t just get a scoop, he got much more than he bargained for. 

He found dozens of converging testimonies about the plans Bergoglio had hatched to protect and save many potential desaparecidos, men and women who ended up in the crosshairs of the repressive regime.  At least a hundred of them, according to Scavo.
The starting line for most of the events the book describes was the Colegio Maximo in San Miguel - in the same area of Buenos Aires Bergoglio used to live – and the nearby Universidad del Salvador, which also had Jesuit ties. This is where Jorge Mario Bergoglio who had not yet turned 40, hosted dissidents who were being hunted down by the military and their thugs, either individuals or groups, passing them off as students  who were attending spiritual exercises. Many of these men’s lives were in danger so Bergoglio’s rescue strategy involved them being expatriated. From the reconstruction these events it is quite clear that Bergoglio was part of a larger support network of Jesuits across the Latin American Continent who helped distribute expatriation documents to those who needed to get out of the country.

The book’s 192 pages are full of the names, faces and stories of many individuals who were rescued thanks to the future Pope’s actions. The reader can almost feel the desperation of that period f Argentinian history on their own skin. 

Scavo paints an eloquent and detailed picture of the consolation and reassurance Bergoglio gave to so many during that dark period. Uruguayan militant Gonzalo Mosca, whom Bergoglio helped flee to Brazil, after giving him some works by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges and “a radio so I could stay up to date.”
The book also mentions three seminarists entrusted to Bergoglio by the Bishop of La Rioja, Enrique Angelelli. Shortly after this, the bishop was killed by the military in a bogus road accident. Then there are Ana and Sergio Gobelin, two Christians who were involved in the pastoral and social mobilisation work in the Buenos Aires’ Bajo Flores slum. 

Bergoglio went to visit them in the slum and celebrated their wedding but then Sergio was arrested by a dissident hunting squad. Bergoglio managed to get him released with the help of Italian consul Enrico Calamai and felpe the couple free to Friuli, in north-eastern Italy. He convinced them by assuring them that if they died “he and his wife would not be able to continued their mission".

The Jesuit Juan Manuel Scannone, a representative of the Liberation Theology movement who was accused of backing the subversive communists, states: “he covered my back, he saved me. And he did so on many occasions”. Given the mood at the time, Bergoglio kept a low profile and chose to show he was not affected by the anxiety that gripped the country. 

He always suggested little tricks to prevent people from getting caught out by the regime’s hitmen. “Now is not the time to play superheroes,” Bergoglio had said. When he drove others to places, he advised them to avoid looking out of the window. When they spoke on the phone they were encouraged not to say anything that could compromise their safety and not to write such things in letters. They were to speak in code. All these little details were also important from a psychological point of view. First live, then philosophise was Bergoglio’s motto. This is what drove him to meet with general Videla and Admiral Massera, two of the dictatorship’s big fish, to try to obtain Yorio and Jalics’ release.

Scavo’s book also reveals the source of Bergoglio’s discretion regarding these facts. This silence was also required of those mentioned in Bergoglio’s List who benefited from his help. 

More than modesty and discretion, Bergoglio’s decision to stay silent reveals an intimate aspect of the current Bishop of Rome’s spiritual profile. 

His actions speak for him and this is as true today as it was back then. You do not respond to offensive comments and accusations made by spiteful people and when you do a good deed you must not boast about it but forget about it. 

“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,  so that your giving may be in secret” (Matthew 6:3-4).