Sunday, March 17, 2013

Jon Sobrino on Pope Francis - edited a second time.

Father Jon Sobrino, the Spanish-born Jesuit who has lived worked, and taught in El Salvador since the late 1960s, was recently interviewed recently spoke about Pope Francis. Below is a quick translation of that interview his remarks.

At the suggestion of a friend, I have cut the interviewer's remarks of the publisher and the headline which are terrible distortions of what Sobrino said and meant. (If you really want to read them I'm putting them in a comment.)

The Spanish version I used for translating is here.What is probably the real text is found in Cartas a las Iglesias can be downloaded as a .pdf file here.

You have dismissed the papal election as “a media folktale.”

The plaza of St. Peter’s was mobbed with people of all races and colors, with a variety of banners, with expectant and smiling faces. The façade of the church was decorated with calculated refinement. One saw people wearing dressy episcopal garments which are not seen in the streets of real life, by campesinos and women in the market. Folklore prevailed – popular customs, in English – although in St. Peter’s Plaza, the customs were more sophisticated and dressed up than those of the people in native Spain or in the rural cantons of El Salvador, where I am.

Is that bad?

No. Nothing of this was bad but it didn’t say anything significant concerning who was going to be the next pope, what joys and problems he would have, and what cross he was going to bear…
But yes; the lavish display, far from the simplicity of Jesus, was shocking. And I sensed a certain boastfulness in the organizers as it to say that everything is going well. What that perfection also expresses power, I am accustomed to call it the ministry of divinization [apotheosis].

But not everything was folklore?

No. There was something not folkloric even from the first day. I mean the simple garments of the pope, the small cross on his chest without gold, or silver, or shining jewels, his prayer in which, bowing, he asked the people before blessing them. These are small but clear signs. I hope they increase as grand signs which accompany his mission. His simplicity and humility were apparent.

The election of Bergoglio was a complete surprise?

Yes, for those who were not insiders it was surprise and a great novelty. The Pope is Argentinian, the first pope from that country. He is a Jesuit, the first pope from that order. Both of these could be trivialized, as has happened in some news reports. Therefore, one must understand this well.  Messi [the football/soccer star] is Argentinian, but not all the Argentinians are stars. Pedro Arrupe [a former superior general of the Jesuits] was a Jesuit, but – and here I’m talking about something more serious – not all the Jesuits are like him.

Headlines which are thoughtless and lazy – like “Argentinian and Jesuit” – are also like folklore. Won’t they have anything else to say? In addition, folkloric and media moments don’t last long. It’s sad to sustain them or continue adding insignificant details without going into the fundamental aspects of the matter, such as the Pope, the Church, God and us. That the folkloric will continue to be what is most sought after depends on the owners of the media – and the spectators

During these days, have you spoken with people who know Bergoglio closely?

Yes, I’m not an expert on the life, work, joys, and sufferings of Bergoglio. And so that I don’t fall into any type of irresponsibility, I have tried to connect with persons in Argentina, whom I will not quote, above all those who have had direct contact with him. I expect understanding of the limits of what I am going to say and I apologize for any errors I might commit. Bergoglio is a Jesuit who has held important posts in the [Jesuit] Province of Argentina. He has been professor of theology, superior and provincial. It is not difficult to talk about his external work. But of the more internal, one can speak only delicately and now respectfully and responsibly. Many companions have spoken of him as a person with deep convictions and temperament, a resolute and relentless fighter. If they make him pope, he will clean up the Curia, it has been said with humor.

His austerity has been highlighted.

Also, they remember him for boundless interest to communicate with others his convictions about the Society of Jesus, an interest which could become possessiveness, even to the point of demanding loyalty to his person. Many recall his austerity of life, as Jesuit, archbishop, and cardinal. Examples of this are his residence and his proverbial travelling by bus. When he was bishop, many priests remember how he was close to them and how he offered to stand in for them in their parish work when they needed to go away for rest. His austerity was accompanied by a real interest in the poor, the indigenous, trade union members who were attacked; this led him to firmly defend them in the face of successive governments. Moral issues have been very close to him, certainly abortion, which led him to directly confront the president of his country.

They have recalled his option for the poor.

In all that, one can assess his specific way of making an option for the poor. Not in actively going out and risking oneself in their defense in the time of repression of the criminal military dictatorships. The complicity of the hierarchy with the dictators is known. Bergoglio was superior of the Jesuits in Argentina from 1973 to 1979, in the years of major repression of civil-military genocide.

Are you talking about complicity?

It doesn’t appear just to speak of complicity, but it seems correct to say that in those circumstances Bergoglio distanced himself from the Popular Church which was committed to the poor. We wasn’t a Romero – celebrated for his defense of human rights and assassinated while exercising his pastoral ministry. I don’t have enough knowledge, and I say this with the fear of being mistaken, Bergoglio did not present himself like Bishop Angelleli, Argentinian bishop assassinated by the military in 1976. Very possibly this took place in his heart, but he was not accustomed to make visible in public the living memory of [Bishop] Leonidas Proaño [of Ecuador], Bishop Juan Gerardi [of Guatemala], Bishop Sergio Mendez [of Cuernevaca, Mexico]…

Nevertheless, he also has a pronounced solidarity?

Yes. On the other hand, since 1998, as archbishop of Buenos Aires, in various ways he accompanied the poorly treated sector of that great city – and with concrete deeds. An eye witness speaks of how, on the first anniversary of the tragedy of Cromagnon [when a fire during a rock concert took the lives of 200 young people], Bergoglio was present and forcibly demanded justice for the victims.  At times he used prophetic language. He denounced the evils which grind the flesh of the people and he named them concretely: human trafficking, slave labor, prostitution, drug-trafficking, and much more. For some, the major force to carry forward his present ministry is his openness to dialogue with the marginalized and from their suffering.
He accompanied decisively church processes in the margins of the Catholic Church and processes which happen at the edge of legality. Two significant examples are the deanery of slum priests in marginal neighborhoods and his assistance to priests who are going about without a worthy ministry.

What awaits Pope Francis?

Only God know. The new pope will have thought well about what awaits him and about what he ought to do, what he will be able to do, and what he wishes to do. Now we can enumerate some tasks which appear important to us here in El Salvador and which can be important for everyone in the Church. Also, we ought to carry out these tasks. But the pope has a greater responsibility and I hope he has his ways [to do this]. The tasks match those that José Ignacio González Faus recently proposed.

What is the most urgent?

The first – I believe the major utopia – is to make real the utopia of John XXIII: The Church is in a special way the Church of the Poor. This didn’t happen in the hall of Vatican II; and thus about forty bishops met outside the Council hall and in the Catacombs of Saint Domitila signed the manifesto which is called the Pact of the Catacombs.

You always point out the lack of sensitivity in the Church

As many say, Bergoglio is sensitive toward the poor. Would that he had the lucidity to make the Church of the Poor real and that the Church would cease to be a Church of abundance, of the bourgeois and the rich. There will not be a lack of enemies to this, as there was not a lack of opposition after [the Latin American bishops’s meeting in] Medellín to many members of the hierarchy who put the poor at the center of the Church. The enemies are inside church offices [curias] and are very powerful in the world of wealth and power. They killed thousands of Christians.

It is impossible to forget Archbishop Romero, Latin American martyr

Would that Pope Francis is not frightened of a Church which is persecuted and martyred, as the churches of Archbishop Romero and Bishop Gerardi. Whether or not he canonizes them, would that he proclaim that the martyrs, speaking of them concretely as martyrs of justice, are the best that we have in the Church. Because they make it like Jesus of Nazareth.  For this, it is not essential that he canonizes Archbishop Romero, although that would be a good sign.  And, if the pope falls into any type of human weakness, may it be pride in his Latin American homeland, suffering and hopeful, martyred and always about to experience resurrection. As well may it be pride for the whole generation of bishops: Leónidas Proaño, Helder Camara, Aloysius Lorscheider, Samuel Ruiz… They didn’t become popes, not even cardinals. But from them we live.

And what can you tell me of the problems which are shaking up the church and which appear in the media?

The second utopia is to face the known constellation of problems inside the organization of the Church which wait to be solved. For example, the urgent reform of the Roman Curia.  It’s also necessary that the members of the Curia should preferably be lay people. Likewise it is important that Rome let the local churches choose their pastors. Also all the symbols of power and worldly dignity should disappear from the papal environment, and certainly  that the successor of Peter lay aside being the head of a State, since this would embarrass Jesus. What remains is that the whole Church feels the present separation of the Christian churches as an offense against God. The pope must be asked that Rome resolve the situation of Catholics whose first marriage fails and who have found stability in a second union. And, of course, priestly celibacy should be rethought.

You also don’t leave aside other classic concerns.

I do have three other questions. On the one hand, that once and for all we put in order the unsustainable situation of women in the Church. Also that we stop undervaluing, and at times despising, the indigenous world, the mapuches of South America and all those the pope will get to know as he travels through  Africa, Asia, and Latin America. And, of course, that we learn to love mother earth.

All this with a firm commitment that has to do a lot with what happened these days.

Yes. The commitment ought to be that the new pope in the balcony of St. Peter’s and the millions in the plaza not become such that the pope becomes a grand actor and the faithful become mere box-office spectators.


Charles said...

Thanks for the translation! I read it hastily in the Spanish, but missed a number of details.

As I commented over at Mercury Rising, I think everyone can understand that a good person may not choose to be a martyr under a dictatorship. Few choose to be heroes under democracy, when the penalties aren't usually torture and death.

But what Sobrino leaves out is the period after the dictatorship, when people were trying to find out what happened to their loved ones and to seek justice for the abusers. This is where I find no rebuttal from Bergoglio's defenders. He could have actively assisted, but seems not to have done. That doesn't necessarily mean he was bad, but it's this that colors his detractors' opinions of him.

In particular, Verbitzky essentially accuses him of lying in the case of the De La Cuadra infant, who was taken from her mother (who was, I believe, then murdered) and gave the infant to a politically-acceptable family rather than to the grandparents. This is something that happened under Franco as well, part of a pattern of repression.

If Bergoglio had been more energetic in seeking justice for those harmed by the Junta, perhaps Verbitzky would accept that Bergoglio did not remember the case when he was questioned in court.

John (Juan) Donaghy said...

Rebel Girl improved my translation and posted it at

John (Juan) Donaghy said...

This is what I cut from the translation. It reveals a grudge against Pope Francis that doesn’t stop at twisting the words of Sobrino in a unconscionable distortion and misquotation.

The title and remarks in italics are those of the interviewer who, I believe, emphasized what is only one aspect of Sobrino’s remarks and misquoted Sobrino’s remarks in the headline which is a grave distortion of what Sobrino actually says.

“Bergoglio wasn’t a Romero; he distanced himself from the poor during the Argentinian genocide”
Jon Sobrino, Basque but universal, and symbol of Liberation Theology, is accustomed to touch the heart. Distanced from the pomp and paraphernalia of the Vatican, his comments had merited him more than one reprimand. Today he spoke for the first time of the new pope and spoke loudly and clearly. Jon Sobrino is the Don Quijote of the disinherited, a theologian who takes off the wrapping paper off of life to present the very bones. But to speak like Sobrino does, with an anti-imperialist spirituality irritates many, above all the Roman Inquisitors. In a very clear, but politically incorrect, discourse, he assails the spectacle of the election of a new pope. “The sumptuous display was shocking, far from the simplicity of Jesus. And, without mincing words, he stated that “Bergoglio, Superior of the Argentinian Jesuits in the years of the worst repression of a civic-military genocide, had a falling out with the Popular Church which was committed to the poor. He was no Romero,” underlined Sobrino.

Greg Metzger said...

Bless you for this. What an informative, richly textured interview. I will add to a post I have up at my blog.

Charles said...

I'm not sure why you cut it out, John. That context makes it clear what the editor wanted to portray: Sobrino as the hero that Bergoglio was not, which alerts the reader to be skeptical.

The very phrase "an anti-imperialist spirituality irritates many, above all the Roman Inquisitors" is a self-parody. Jesus commended the Roman centurion, so he wasn't against imperialists. Jesus approvingly said that the Kingdom of Heaven was advancing forcefully, so he wasn't against divine imperialism.

I came away from the interview thinking Sobrino paid Bergoglio high compliments. When he said that Bergoglio was no Romero... well, how many of us are? said...

I find that "well, Bergoglio is no Romero" meme (which I've seen in several media pieces) incomprehensible. There's a good reason Romero wouldn't be Pope... being dead foremost among them.

There's nothing wrong with speculating that "if X had done Y, then Z might not have happened", but Z might have happened to X. That is, had Bergoglio stuck up for the two Jesuits in some more forceable manner, it might have been Bergoglio who was tortured and/or assassinated.

John (Juan) Donaghy said...

There's more by Jon Sobrino on Pope Francis in Carta a Las Iglesias which you can download as a pdf here: