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Chris Ford: Pope Francis I - the Vatican PR machine in overdrive!

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

 There's been a lot of hype around the new Pope Francis I.

Since his election just over a day ago, we've heard about how Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio has lived simply in his native Buenos Aires. A man who likes to do his own cooking, lives in a small apartment, has travelled on public transport in his native Buenos Aires and about his compassion towards the poor.

In fact, the Vatican's public relations section has made much of his work with the poor in his Argentine homeland. It has been recounted that in 2008, for example, in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis, he sternly admonished the wealthy and the ruling elites in his native Argentina for their treatment of the poor. On this count, I hope that he will take a harder line on poverty both within the developed and underdeveloped world during his pontificate. If that's the case, then Francis will get a big tick of approval from me and other leftists, particularly if he pushes to do so through a huge governmental-led redistribution of wealth rather than through selective private charity.

The Vatican's spin doctors, however, have omitted important allegations from the narrative. These concern the now Pope Francis's role during the Argentine military junta's 'Dirty War' against the political and armed left during the 1970s.

During this period, it has been alleged that Father Bergoglio as he was then hid political prisoners, not out of seeking to protect them, but more in order to keep them away from concerned international human rights group inspection teams. It has also been alleged that he failed to protect two young Catholic priests who disappeared during the Dirty War years after they ignored warnings not to enter a slum area known to be unsupportive to the junta. Yet, Bergoglio told his biographer that he acted to protect the two priests in question and pleaded with the junta leadership to spare their lives. His Wikipedia entry lists another story that Bergoglio gave his official papers to another man who looked like him so that the man could escape Argentina.

On this count alone, Pope Francis is going to have to make a full and clean disclosure about his role during the Dirty War years, even if it hurts.

On other moral questions pertaining to human rights, he's as conservative as most of the Catholic leadership tend to be. Francis will be as tough (although slightly less so) on the issue of GLBT rights and will also continue the Church's opposition to female ordination, priestly celibacy and abortion.

As for political change at the Vatican, that will be more a case of wait and see. I'm not holding my breath given that it's one of the most conservative institutions on the planet.

And coming back to the spin about him being a simple man, I have to say that some of my Facebook friends have mocked him for saying that he lives simple. After all (like many of my family and friends), I can make my own meals and take public transport (or at least when it's accessible to me.) Besides, I live in a simple apartment too.

That's why I say big deal Francis!  And outside of the Vatican, there are many clerics who live simple lives too! By the way, aren't Catholic clerics supposed to take a vow of poverty when they enter the ministry?

Still, Francis I now has the opportunity to make good on his rhetoric and be honest about his past. If he doesn't honestly own up to his past, then all the PR spin in the world might not save him. And if that happens, he could follow Emeritus Pope Benedict into retirement meaning the Catholic Church will have to run another conclave sooner rather than later.





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