Argentina Beats Brazil in
the Vatican World Cup Final
In the end, it was as predictable as always: Jorge Mario Bergoglio beat Brazilian Odilo Scherer, who shares the same background of Latin America’s bloody military dictatorships of the 1960s and 70s, and became the first non-European pope. No African came close.
The church quickly picked the cardinal with the slightly better conservative credentials, as it was well aware that it could not afford any uncertainty about its choice to fester. Thus Francis I will rule at least until the next scandal calls for another early retirement.
Immediately, along with all the sponsored joy in Roma and throughout the world, those who survived Argentina’s cruel Dirty War, waged by the successive military juntas against their political opponents, have protested the choice, mentioning Bergoglio’s possible role during those dark times.
And at least one well-documented instance has been invoked: the kidnapping of Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics, two Jesuit priests, in May of 1976, by paramilitary forces of the regime. They reappeared five months later, drugged and seminude, in the outskirts of Buenos Aires.
According to Horacio Verbitsky, a journalist who published an account of the episode in his ‘The Silence,’ Yorio accused Bergoglio, then a Society of Jesus official, in Argentina, of having refused to properly protect the priests, who were persecuted by the Junta for their work among the poor living in slum communities.
The generals, who ruled Argentina with an iron fist during the period, neither acknowledged their imprisonment, nor the reasons for it, naturally. Yorio passed away in 2000, and the case would be destined to become a footnote, if Bergoglio hadn’t now risen to the top position of the Catholic church. Then again, as pope, it’s even more unlikely that he’d have to defend his actions.
A SCHOOL OF INTOLERANCE
He offered his version of the events to his biographer, Sergio Rubin, portraying himself not as the facilitator, but as the liberator of the two priests from their harrowing experience. He told Rubin that he personally interceded on their behalf with the dictator of du jour, the infamous Jorge Villela, who then, completely out of character, granted the priests mercy.
But Bergoglio, as Francis I, may not need to deny the other, perhaps more relevant, charge against him: that of being a homophobic, who’s openly against same-sex marriage, or gay rights for that matter. He, and for that matter, also Scherer, both are part of the most conservative segment of the Catholic hierarchy.
In fact, they both share this much and more in common. A tendency to be very vocal when it comes to church doctrine, the sanctity of Mary, infallibility of the pope, and other issues that, frankly, few care about. But when it concerns minority and women reproductive rights, racism issues, social injustices, and other more pressuring subjects of our age, neither is particularly eloquent.
That he’s chosen to name himself after St. Francis of Assisi, known for having renounced material wealth to advocate for the poor and the animals, is beyond ironic. Not even in Argentina, Bergoglio’s been know for charity work, and his endurance through the political and economic turmoil of his country may be a hint about his commitment to causes affecting society.
A CLEVER CHOICE
As for the Vatican, it played it all by the book, even imbuing the proceedings with a measured, albeit veiled, dose of big arena sense of spectacle. Watching the crowds at St. Peter’s Square, and in Buenos Aires, was akin of watching the great final of the World Cup of soccer, including the roars, the sing-along, the flag waving, and the emotional tears.
The metaphor is not out of place either, if one considers the traditional rivalry between Brazil and Argentina, and the proximity of the World Cup itself, to be held in the former, and of which, both nations are among the favorites to win. After all, until a few hours before, many Brazilians were almost sure the pope would be one of their own.
But behind the scenes, the dispute was actually not between Jorge and Odilo, but between South America, where the rise of evangelical cults now threatens the Catholic church’s historical hegemony, and Africa, the site of the most radical conservatism of the doctrine. There may have been intense out of view arguments in favor of choosing the first black pope.
It wasn’t to be, of course. The battle there is clearly going Vatican’s way, and despite all protests against the persecution of gays, and widespread religious fundamentalism, there isn’t a threat to the control the church exercises over the continent as a whole, including over other Christian denominations.
THE TIRESOME SPORT METAPHOR
But in South America, the reality is trickier. So the political wizards, who had already chosen Karol Józef Wojtyla, a Polish, right when Gdansk shipyard workers were challenging the Communist rule, at the end of the 1970s, once again had to work their magic, and fast. Whether it was a masterly choice, time will tell.
If Bergoglio proves to be a discreet but effective administrator, he may as well help revive Catholic fervor in Latin America. But if he proves to be more like a bureaucrat, like Joseph Ratzinger, then a decade or so from now, we may have to watch the 24h uncritical coverage, the black and white smokes, the chants of Habemus Papam and all that, all over again.
As for Scherer, he’s still 63, seven years younger than Bergolio and relatively a Spring chicken for that sort of contest. So there’s still chance for Brazilians to beat Argentina, for the sake of a small cathartic national explosion. That, or perhaps place all their bets on the possibility that the national team will, indeed, vanquish their eternal rivals at the World Cup final.
* Evolution, Liberation, Deception