"There are two views on Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis. The world has warmed to the first Latin American pope, whose election has cracked open the Eurocentrism of the Catholic church, and who came across on the balcony as so humble, so genuine, so holy. But that is not all that can be said.
In the last 10 years that I have been watching this Argentinian papabile, I have heard two opposite opinions. One sees him as humble, the other as authoritarian. One as progressive and open, the other as conservative and severe. When I met him in
We have been in touch a couple of times since, and when he was in
As we were reminded on Thursday, Bergoglio's name had been connected with the dirty war in the 1970s in Argentina. Was this unjust? I am convinced by Marcó's assurance that it was a "very grave calumny". From 1973 to 1979, as Jesuit provincial, Bergoglio had a confrontation with a couple of priests, Orland Yorio and Francisco Jalics, who were living in a poor barrio and carrying out dangerous work against the military dictatorship. They felt betrayed by Bergoglio because instead of endorsing their work and protecting them, he demanded they leave the barrio. When they refused, they had to leave the Jesuit order. When they were later "disappeared" and tortured, it seemed to many that Bergoglio had been siding with the repression. It was the kind of complex situation that is capable of multiple interpretations, but it is far more likely Bergoglio was trying to save their lives.
When I spoke with fellow Jesuits from other countries about Bergoglio's prospects for becoming pope, I was taken aback by their dislike. He was harsh and disciplinarian, they said, and never went to visit his Jesuit brothers in the curia in
Because of issues like this, and his confrontations with the Argentinian government on questions such as same-sex marriage, he has been classed as a conservative. But a different picture has been painted by one of Bergoglio's friends, a radical feminist and Catholic called Clelia Luro, who is about as far to the left on the ecclesial spectrum as you can go. She married a prominent and respected bishop, Jerónimo Podestá – one of the leaders of the progressive reforms that followed the second Vatican council – and was sometimes seen concelebrating mass with him, the kind of thing that makes a Catholic cleric's hair stand on end. But Bergoglio reacted differently.
Luro talked to me at length about her friend, of whom she has the highest opinion, and told me how she would write to him almost weekly, and he would always reply by ringing her up and having a short chat. When Podesta was dying, Bergoglio was the only Catholic cleric who went to visit him in hospital, and, when he died, the only one who showed public recognition of his great contribution to the Argentinian church.
Now he is pope, we can hope Francis may start not only with a new name but with a clean bill of moral health, and that the world can make its own judgment on what kind of man he is – not based on misunderstandings that come from painful and difficult moments in the past, but responding to his call from St Peter's balcony for "fraternity, love and trust among us". I believe he will not let us down, and will be a beacon of Franciscan poverty and simplicity in a