The Cheerleader

Former Argentine military dictator JorgeOn the whole, patriotic priests are preferable to those preaching the old baloney about the universal brotherhood of man, an impossible, unnatural aspiration that, by definition, can only (if it is to mean anything) be coercive.
It is however better if that patriotism is clear-eyed. healthy, and not too heavily worn.

I’m not convinced that that has been the case with Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Argentine prelate who has now become Pope Francis. Even if we disregard the rights (hard to discern) and wrongs (monumental) of the Argentine case for its unprovoked attack on the Falkland Islands in 1982, Bergoglio’s language is, well, judge for yourself.

The Daily Telegraph:

Pope Francis’s election may cause controversy in Britain over comments he made at a Mass last year for Argentine veterans of the Falklands War to mark 30th anniversary of the 1982 conflict. He reportedly said at the time: “We come to pray for those who have fallen, sons of the country who went out to defend their mother country, to reclaim that which is theirs and was usurped from them.”

Addressing relatives of fallen veterans before a visit to the Argentine military cemetery in Darwin in the Falklands in 2009, he said: “Go and kiss this land which is ours, and seems to us far away.”

He said they would not go alone, adding: “There are angels who will accompany you, who are sons, husbands and fathers of yours, who fell there, in an almost religious movement, of kissing with their blood the native soil.”

Or this, via Harry’s Place:

“Let’s pray to God that these years – despite the efforts of many to de-Malvinise history and reality – have served to silently mature the conscience of many Argentinians far and wide in this country, in a more authentic love for the Homeland, in a spirit of justice, through anonymous sacrifice, that they should be the hidden but fruitful sap which will make us live in freedom, in all the possible ways within this anxious life.”

Back in 2002 the (British Roman Catholic) Tablet provided its take on the religious dimension of the Argentine assault on the Falklands:

….Around this twentieth anniversary much has and will no doubt continue to be written. For those of us who lived the conflict at close quarters, perhaps one of the most interesting and under-reported aspects of it was the extent to which God and the Virgin Mary were used to justify the war, and to bring it to an end.

The military regime which decided to invade the islands did so in the knowledge that it counted on a powerful body of opinion within the Argentine Church to give it its blessing. The attitude of the Argentine Episcopal Conference to the regime that came to power in the 1976 coup had been equivocal. Pastoral letters had held back from public condemnation of human rights violations, and suggested that the ?common good? could be served by dealing with the moral and social disintegration that had characterised the previous civilian government of Isabelita Peron.

Only a minority of bishops, priests and nuns condemned the thousands of disappeared, and the complicity of those who pandered to national Catholicism. Those who survived the repression, like Bishop Jaime de Nevares of Neuquin, Bishop Miguel Hesayne of Viedma, and Bishop Jorge Novak of Quilmes, distanced themselves from the nationalistic fervour which surrounded the “reconquest of Las Malvinas?”.

They remained, however, in a minority. From the outset of the Falklands War, the partnership between Church and State gave the Argentine soldiers and their generals a sense of a moral crusade, and the junta the certainty of political cohesion. History was revisited and revised to provide justification for the equation between Argentine sovereignty and holy conversion.

Memories were revived of the first Spanish missionaries to the Falkland Islands, the priests portrayed as picture-book saints laying the sacramental rock on the heathen land. The subsequent British colonialism was reduced to a caricature of spiritual emptiness when, in fact, both the Anglican and Catholic faiths had retained an enduring presence on the islands. The mixing of nationalistic and religious mythology was prevalent in the first crucial hours of the Falklands conflict. On the eve of the invasion, Argentine commanders agreed that the military operation to take Las Malvinas, initially planned under the codename Azul, should be renamed Rosario, in honour of the Virgin of Rosario. According to Argentine cultural tradition, the Virgin had brought her graces to the population of Buenos Aires in the early nineteenth century before an invasion by British troops was successfully repulsed. She has been venerated passionately ever since.

On 7 April, the new Argentine military governor of Las Malvinas, General Mario Men?ndez, was sworn in during a ceremony at which Archbishop Desiderio Elso Collino, the chaplain general of the armed forces, officiated. “The gaucho Virgin is Mother of all men, but is in a very special way the Mother of all Argentines, and has come to take possession of this land, which is also her land”, stated Collino.For the rest of the war a succession of military chaplains ensured that the crusading spirit of the Argentine troops was kept alive in language reminiscent of the speeches delivered to Franco’s forces during the Spanish Civil War. In the fight against the English “heathen” no Argentine churchman was more fanatical than Fr Jorge Piccinalli….

How this all ties into Argentina’s ‘dirty war’ is, of course, something that will be worth discussing on another occasion.

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7 Responses to The Cheerleader

  1. RightLiberal says:

    Honestly, I’m not that concerned about this. Every culture has a right to create a mythical golden age as a rebuke to an unsatisfactory present, following the logic of the Southern Agrarians. No need to self-flagellate, and sometimes a little cry of “jingo” is the best antidote to lingering national doubts.

    I’m a lot more concerned about what liberal commentators are calling his commitment to “social justice.” “Social justice” has killed a lot more people than any podunk colonial war, but then, it’s not the fairly moderate traditional Catholic conception we’re talking about. He’s no liberation theologian. Is he?

  2. Two comments. First, the Argentine government provides financial support for the Roman Catholic Church in that country as per the country’s constitution (and even the Peronists haven’t been willing to undo that relationship — even after the fallout between the Church and the government over same-sex marriage). Part of being a formally privileged Church is that patriotism tends to run a bit high particularly in times of national conflict. That is part of the deal (something the CofE in its more robust days understood quite well). When the govt. is paying for the chasuble, the wearer of the chasuble will be more likely to support the government.

    Which leads to the second point, which is that a proper secular order — one that doesn’t punish religion but doesn’t officially establish it either — is one that not only protects non-religionists from having to support something they don’t like, it liberates the religion from being manipulated or dominated by the government. Free from the strings that come with government funding and govt. privilege, religion can serve one of its primary social functions — serving as a counter-balance to the overwhelming power of the State (something that even Christopher Hitchens admitted in a debate with his brother Peter).

  3. Right Liberal, he isn’t a liberation theologian — far from it. He was part of the crackdown on liberation theology in the 1980s and 1990’s, both as a Jesuit Provincial and as archbishop of Buenos Aires. I think that he embraces the kind of social democratic stuff that is very common in official Catholic circles (read Benedict XVI’s encyclical Truth in Charity for a dose of it) but he is no Marxist.

  4. John says:

    Well, at least he isn’t reflexively anti-war. Or, maybe he supports only wars against Western countries.

  5. Priebe says:

    Oh, ha ha ha ha! ! Ha! ! Le temps de le manquer! Eden est à court de conte de fées chaotique en constante évolution, mais aussi Guangcan! ! Le gaz éloignés des bombes, doux, en ligne droite et en vue des agriculteurs,Normalisé voile du calendrier grégorien Priebe

  6. SFG says:

    Yawn. He’s Argentine, of course he’s going to be for Argentina in a war. You guys are British, of course you’re upset. I never quite got the point of that war anyway. We all know right-wingers are nationalistic, but the problem with nationalism is countries get in wars sometimes.

  7. acilius says:

    @SFG: Well, it is a bit more concerning than that. Public opinion in Argentina is very fierce about the Malvinas/ Falklands matter, and the day before Francis’ elevation the islanders voted almost unanimously to stay under UK jurisdiction. So the situation is somewhat delicate. If the Vatican, a major international presence with a mass following in Argentina, is seen as anything other than neutral in the dispute the likelihood of a new war might rise very rapidly.

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