Thursday, March 14, 2013


Some preliminary notes

by George Weigel

1. Here are the relevant portions of my Sunday memo on the Bergoglio boomlet
that turned out to be far more than a boomlet:

                                                Bergoglio, Once More?

            [Bergoglio in the 2005 conclave]
 In April 2005, the progressive party (which was a real party in
those days) came to Rome thinking it had things in hand, the wind at its
back, and clear sailing ahead, only to find that the pro-Ratzinger party was
well-organized, that Ratzinger had made an enormous impression by the way he
had run the General Congregations after John Paul II's death, that he had
deep support from throughout the Third World because of the courtesy with
which he had treated visiting Third World bishops on their quinquennial
visits to Rome over the past twenty years, and that he was indisputably the front runner. Confronted with this reality, the progressive party panicked.

Their first blocking move against Ratzinger was to try and run the aged Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, S.J., emeritus archbishop of Milan, who was already ill with Parkinson's disease and had moved in retirement to the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Jerusalem. The idea was not to elect
Martini pope; it was to stop the Ratzinger surge. Then, when Ratzinger blew past Martini with almost 50% of the vote on what was assumed to be the "courtesy" first ballot (where some votes are cast as gestures of friendship, esteem, etc.), and subsequently went over 50% the following morning, the panic intensified. Martini was summarily abandoned (or may have told his supporters to just forget it). And then the progressives tried to advance Cardinal Bergoglio -- who was (and is) every bit as much a champion of "dynamic orthodoxy" as Ratzinger; who had been seriously persecuted by his more theologically and politically left-leaning Jesuit brethren after his term as Jesuit provincial in Argentina (they exiled him to northern Argentina where, if memory serves, he taught high school math until he was rescued by John Paul II and eventually made archbishop of Buenos Aires); and
who was doubtless appalled by the whole exercise on his putative behalf. It was another blocking move, this time a last-ditch one, perhaps constructed around the idea that a Third World candidate like Bergoglio would peel off
Ratzinger votes. In any event, it was a complete misreading of the dynamics of the conclave, and a rather cynical use of Bergoglio (who would almost certainly have been abandoned had the strategem worked), and it failed

            Thus the irony of Bergoglio now being discussed and perhaps promoted for what he truly is, long after it was thought that his time was past, and by many of the same forces who would have been enthusiastic about Ratzinger in 2005.

             [A conversation with the new pope ten months ago]

            I spent an hour with the cardinal in his Buenos Aires office
last May, in a wide-ranging conversation about John Paul II, the Church in Latin America, the Jesuits, the political situation in Argentina, and affairs in Rome. I was prepared to be impressed, and I was more than impressed by a man of obviously keen intelligence, deep spiritual life, genuine humility (he rides the bus or tram to work), and a nice, although not cynical, appreciation of what was wrong with the Roman scene. I was also struck by his clear sense that the Church in Latin America had to be a Church of the New Evangelization, i.e., that it could no longer count on a
traditional Catholic culture to transmit the faith, but rather had to become a missionary enterprise again. There was no complaining (as there often is from Latin American Catholic leaders) about "sheep-rustling" by American 
evangelical and pentecostalist Protestants, but rather a frank admission
that if the Catholic Church was losing "market share," so to speak, it was the Catholic Church's own fault.
            Bergoglio also seemed quite clear about the emerging and dangerous  democracy-deficit in Argentina under President Cristina Kirchner, and was, as we were speaking, preparing a National Day sermon challenging
the government on its increasing authoritarianism. (When I tried to send the cardinal the Spanish edition of the second volume of my JP2 biography as a gift on my return to the U.S., it came back a few weeks later, marked "Addressee Unknown" -- which tells you something about Bergoglio's
relationship with the Kirchner government, there being absolutely no problem with the way the package was addressed or the customs forms filled out. I eventually got the book to him through private sources, and the cardinal
wrote back, apologizing for the inconvenience but saying that he was sure I understood.)

2. Now some instant-thoughts:

1. Let's get one piece of Bergoglio mythology cleared up at the outset. The reports that he was somehow in cahoots with the military dictatorship in Argentina were blown up by John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter/CNN in 2005 by a single phone call to the Amnesty International chief in
Argentina, who said it was all a lie. My own suspicion is that the lie was being spread by his enemies inside the Jesuits, of whom there were and are many. In any event, that is a false accusation and it should not be given any credence.

2. Pope Francis is a John Paul II protege. He was rescued from his internal
exile (see above) by John Paul II (with the assistance of the
then-archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Antonio Quarrancino, whose
auxiliary bishop he became, and whom he succeeded as archbishop of Buenos

3. He was a major figure in the 2007 meeting of all the Latin American bishops at Aparecida in Brazil, where the bishops made a significant turn from the institutional-maintenance Church of the past to the evangelical church of the future. This is in part a recognition of how cultural change has deeply reshaped Latin American consciousness and in part a recognition
that the Church in Latin America cannot play defense (against evangelical
and pentecostalist Protestants), but has to go on offense an re-evangelize
its own people while getting back into the missionary business.

4. He was a defender of human rights and democracy in an Argentina where both are under threat from an increasingly authoritarian Kirchner regime. But it would be false to see him through the prism of "progressive"/Jesuit Latin American economics and politics. Cardinal Bergoglio is, like JP2, a
man of what I would call "dynamic" or "affirmative" orthodoxy. He expressed
serious concern to me about the condition of the Jesuits, and I can imagine that he may want to take a serious reform of that great order in hand -- something John Paul II tried and failed to do.

On the other hand, he is clearly aware of the inequities of Latin American society and he will approach those problems (and related issues throughout the world) through the prism of Catholic social doctrine. He will not be
Paul Krugman in a white cassock and zuchetto.

5. And he will be a man of institutional reform. Let's remember that one of
the first things he's going to read on taking possession of the papal apartment is that sealed 300-page report on Vatileaks and related scandals.
My expectation would be that he would act swiftly to deal with whatever that report reveals about Things That Must Be Fixed, and I would expect (based on my May conversation with him about the mess here) to see rapid change in
senior positions -- and in the Vatican communications operation, which he has to know is a shambles.

6. Finally, I think we'll see some backing off of the more "baroque" style that had come to prominence under Benedict XVI. Pope Francis is a man of great personal simplicity, but also great conviction, who is not going to be
manipulated by the traditional managers of popes and who is likely to simplify the papal style.

Perhaps the most knowledgable person of Pope Francis in the United States is Charles Paternina who was (I suspect) the conduit to then Cardinal Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio for George Weigel's interview above.

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