Former Argentine dictator Jorge Rafael Videla was announced dead on Friday. At 87, he died while serving life in prison for the abhorrent human rights abuses he conducted during the span of his ruthless military dictatorship from 1976-1983.
Gen. Videla became president after overthrowing Isabel Martínez de Perón, in a coup d'etat. His dictatorship, referred to as the "Dirty War," is responsible for up to 30,000 disappearances, killings and tortures of subversives. Babies born into "dissident" families were stolen to give to military families.
Gen. Videla's death revives Pope Francis's contested connection to the Dirty War. Latin America's first pope, Francis "repeatedly had to dispute claims that he allowed the kidnapping of two priests in his order in 1976."
However, most of the controversy is based on his inaction towards the junta military as the leader of Argentina's Jesuits during the Dirty War.
Federico Finchelstein, an Argentine historian at the New School for Social Research in New York, told the New York Times that "The combination of action and inaction by the church was instrumental in enabling the mass atrocities committed by the junta ... Those like Francis that remained in silence during the repression also played by default a central role," he said. "It was this combination of endorsement and either strategic or willful indifference that created the proper conditions for the state killings."
Professor Finchelstein makes a valid point. In a region where church leaders have been vocal against military juntas in the past, it is very troubling that Pope Francis remained silent during such atrocities. It also doesn't help his case that as "the head of the Argentine Conference of Bishops from 2005 to 2011, Francis resisted issuing a formal apology for the church's actions during the Dirty War."
Regardless of the politics behind these accusations, there is a bigger, more disturbing question we should be asking. Why wouldn't a church leader step in or at least speak out while thousands of innocent lives were being kidnapped, tortured, and killed? Let's forget any possible ties of the Pope turning in two Jesuit priests with "anti-government views" or reports of concentration camps on church property; his duty as a leader of the church is to represent the teachings of Christ, right? Would Jesus sit idly by while such atrocities are taking place? Of course not. I know this is a very complicated and thorny issue, but it gives me pause to think that someone who watched thousands of people die could be chosen as the head of the Roman Catholic Church.
Then again, it's the Vatican Dso I don't know why I am surprised.