Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Argentina a complex crucible for Pope

By Frida Ghitis, Special to CNN
updated 6:18 PM EDT, Thu March 14, 2013
Before becoming Pope Francis, he was Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the former archbishop of Buenos Aires. The announcement for the selection of a new pope came on Wednesday, March 13, the first full day of the cardinals' conclave in the Sistine Chapel. Before becoming Pope Francis, he was Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the former archbishop of Buenos Aires. The announcement for the selection of a new pope came on Wednesday, March 13, the first full day of the cardinals' conclave in the Sistine Chapel.
HIDE CAPTION
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
Pope Francis
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Frida Ghitis: Argentina has unique makeup, circumstances that were crucible for new pope
  • She says Francis had close, good relationship with country's large Jewish community
  • She says he's been accused of abetting dictator there in '70s, '80s; He denies this
  • Ghitis: He's conservative, has shown interest in inequality, sees poverty as rights issue

Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter: @FridaGColumns

(CNN) -- Does it matter that the new pope comes from Argentina? It matters greatly, because Argentina shaped the life and the views of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis. Through Francis, Argentina will help shape the church.

More than any country in Latin American, Argentina is a nation of immigrants, with an unlikely mix of inhabitants -- including one of the world's largest Jewish communities. It is nation that has undergone enormous political upheaval, where the human rights abuses of a cruel military dictatorship remain an open wound. It is country of great natural wealth and a proud culture on impressive display, but one in which poverty and inequality remain urgent problems.

Frida Ghitis
Frida Ghitis

The College of Cardinals elected the first pope from the Americas in its history and the first non-European in more than a thousand years. But the choice is important for more than symbolic reasons.

The times in which we live test us and mold us. They are our crucible.

In Argentina, Bergoglio was tested and we can see some of the ways in which he was molded. By examining his career in Buenos Aires we can gain some insight into his coming papacy.

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio had an extraordinarily close relationship with the city's Jewish community. He worked together with them on anti-poverty programs and co-authored a book with a rabbi. As part of that relationship he was willing to address the Catholic Church's controversial role during the Holocaust, supporting the need to open the Vatican files to find out the truth. This suggests he might be open to lifting some of the secrecy that has shrouded the Vatican in other controversies, perhaps even including the recent child sexual abuse scandals.

Opinion: Pope Francis, open up the church

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



He showed a commitment to interfaith relations, respect for other religions, and a determination to fight for justice. He attended Rosh Hashana services, lit Hanukkah candles, and pushed the Argentinean government to persevere with a stalled investigation of a 1994 attack against a Jewish community center, the worst terrorist attack in Argentina's history. He showed his commitment to finding the truth was not a matter of offering a sound-bite, but of pursuing justice; again, a possible hint of things to come.

His selection was widely celebrated in Argentina. Like every other Argentinean, this pope will be a devout soccer fan. The soccer superstar Diego Maradona proclaimed, "The god of soccer is Argentinean, and now the pope is, too. It makes our country joyful."

But not everyone in Argentina is celebrating.

Some human rights activists say Bergoglio's behavior during the dictatorship that consumed Argentina from 1976-1983 was shameful. During the years of military rule, the regime abducted and killed up to 30,000 people. During most of that time, Bergoglio was head of the Jesuit order. The Catholic Church generally supported the dictatorship.

In the book "The Silence," by investigative reporter Horacio Verbitsky, Bergoglio is accused of deliberately failing to protect two Jesuit priests who were captured and imprisoned by the government. In a separate case from that era, Bergoglio has been called to testify about the kidnapping of a baby, part of a regime practice of stealing the children of imprisoned activists and handing them for adoption by prominent families. Elena de la Cuadra says she and her husband were kidnapped and their baby stolen. They claim Bergoglio failed to intercede when he was asked, and accuse him of having knowledge of the practice and not speaking out.

Navarrette: Pope pick a signal to Latino Catholics

Top 5 Papal priorties for Los Angeles
'Not surprised' by Bergoglio selection
Chris Cuomo on his pope prediction

Bergoglio denies the accusations, and his supporters, including Argentinean Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel say they are not true.

More recently, Bergoglio has not shied away from challenging the government. He vehemently rejected support for same-sex marriage, calling gay rights legislation "a machination of the Father of Lies." And he forcefully criticized the government for what he viewed as a failure to tackle poverty and inequality.

Much has been written about his disdain for earthly comforts -- he prefers the bus to a chauffeur-driven limousine and cooked his own meals until now -- but his activism on behalf of the poor has been just as much a hallmark of his life. While he rejects "Liberation Theology," a radical social and political ideology, he supports an aggressive policy to promote equality.

And in what will be a papacy guided by conservative moral standards on most issues, his past suggests that the fight against poverty will take a primary role. He has declared that "human rights are not violated just by terrorism, repression and assassination, but also by unjust economic structures that produce great inequality."

Living in Argentina during the years of dictatorship and during times of economic upheaval that created more poverty put the new pope in a position to make moral choices. Other popes before him faced the challenges of their time.

Opinion: Pope Francis - A conservative who sides with the poor

His immediate predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, came of age in Nazi Germany and, like other people of his generation, was a member of the Hitler Youth and served in the German military. He tried to explain those circumstances to critics during his papacy. Before him, Pope John Paul II grew up under communist rule in Poland, a fact that played a key role in his papacy when he helped inspire the fall of the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe.

Pope Francis grew up in a different place, with a different history. He lived in a country with a large Catholic majority, but one where most people are not particularly devout. He will try to make Catholicism relevant, particularly to the poor, and he has shown he is not likely to promote a theology that seeks to demonize or distance itself from those who practice other religions.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frida Ghitis.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 9:02 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT