Sunday, August 2, 2015

Washington Post: You Can’t Understand Pope Francis Without Juan Perón — and Evita

What happened?

Nick Miroff at the Washington Post just came out with a fascinating article on the current Pope.
BUENOS AIRES (August 1) — A few years ago, when he was not yet Pope Francis, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, visited the convent where he attended kindergarten in the city’s Flores neighborhood. The nuns gathered around. 
“Sister Rosa,” he asked one of his first teachers, “what was I like?” 
“A little demon,” she bellowed. The nuns burst out laughing.
Well, that's really how the article begins. And no, I'm not "reading anything" into that.

Though some of the piece is somewhat hagiographical, there is much that is of interest.  In my view the takeaway is Bergoglio's old friends and associates describing his political and economic views: 
In recent months, the pope’s indictment of unfettered capitalism as “the devil’s dung” and his calls for sweeping cultural and lifestyle changes to reduce global warming have fueled a perception among some conservatives that Francis is a leftist, with Marxist views dressed up in white vestments. 
Here in Argentina, where Francis had a reputation as a conservative, those who have known him for decades find such characterizations risible, throwing their hands in the air, as if told the Brazilians were better at soccer or Chile had better wine. 
“Absurd,” said Julio Barbaro, a former Argentine congressman who studied at the San Miguel Jesuit college with Francis in the 1960s. 
The pope, Barbaro said, is a “Peronist” whose views don’t fit into the left-right boxes of the U.S. political divide... 
Peronism’s appeal for many postwar Argentines, including the young Francis, was its rejection of both Marxism and laissez-faire capitalism. “It was a way to help the poor that doesn’t believe in class struggle,” Barbaro said. “It believes in capitalism but with limits.” 
I'm going to stop right here and insist that this is not a good thing. Indeed, unless you're a "Perfect Latin American Idiot" or Andrew Lloyd Webber, the following is incontrovertible: Peronism was the worst thing that ever happened to the beautiful country of Argentina. Besides the fact that the Perons were repressive anti-liberal and anti-Christian demagogues, their economic policies, among other things, took what was once one of the richest countries in the world and turned it into a permanently corrupt basket case, while making the whole thing about them.

Here is the Argentinian writer Nicolás Márquez on Juan Peron and Peronism:

Many things about Perón have been buried with time... 
Very few Argentineans know that Perón rose to power through a coup d’état, inspired by Nazi ideology. The military government (1943-1946) he was part of intended to support Germany in World War II. 
Perón’s influence in politics and the army grew during that military rule. He then obtains absolute power, legitimized by the popular vote (in 1946). From then on, he practically leads a plebiscitary dictatorship. His rule was marked by political repression, censorship, exiled Argentineans all over the place … Montevideo became what Miami is to Havana: full of exiled Argentineans who listened to Uruguayan radio stations like Cubans today listen to Radio Martí. 
Other features of his government included a cult of personality, hero-worship, and even an attempt to replace the Catholic religion with a secular one: the national Peronist religion. He took the cult of personality to sickening new heights, indoctrinating children at schools... 
Perón imposed Peronist doctrine as the national ideology. What did it consist of, and was it beneficial for the country? 
First of all, it wasn’t, because Peronist doctrine was placed above the Constitution. The Supreme Court itself said so. It was a dysfunctional period for Argentina. 
Second, it was very vague, as was Perón himself. A biographer from the United States, Joseph Page, said Perón “turned the use of ambiguity into an art form.” 
Perón used to say, “we’re neither rightist nor leftist nor centrist, we’re on the other side of the road.” His discourse was so imprecise that it allowed him to embrace anything and legitimize any measure... 
...He begins with the premise that wealth has to be redistributed, and the “haves” are so because of the “have-nots. 
Perón banned homosexuals from voting. That’s just one interesting fact that underscores the scope of state intervention during that time.
The author goes on to mention that banning homosexuals from voting had nothing much to do with anything. Peron didn't need to do it. It was just something petty he did because he could.

And here's a bit about Evita:
From a Marxist outlook, Perón was someone who anesthetized the masses to stall a revolution. But Perón didn’t sit well with the masses, because he came from the military ranks, he was a conservative, a powerful member of the bourgeoisie without a revolutionary profile. 
Eva, on the other hand, did. She was a poor, illegitimate, actress of ill-repute who from that outcast position rises to extreme power to denounce the oligarchy furiously. Evita contributed what Perón lacked, the revolutionary mystique. Eva gave him that popular appeal. 
Perón’s harshest speeches came after Eva’s death, because she used to give those kinds of speeches.
Anyone who has been following the Francis pontificate, especially recently, might be excused from thinking that the Peron-Francis comparison is much richer than even the Washington Post author may have realized.

Here are some other tidbits from the Washington Post article:
The family home was clean, orderly and austere, remembered Osvaldo Devries, a childhood classmate of Francis’s younger brother, Alberto, who died in 2010. 
“We would go to the Bergoglio house after school to do our homework, then play soccer in the park,” Devries said. The parents, he recalled, were formal and religious. 
“I don’t remember ever seeing them show affection to their sons,” Devries said. 
“There was always something a little distant about them.”
I find that very sad. Perhaps it also explains a few things. 
Francis learned to shoot pool and dance with girls at parties. He loved the Argentine style of tango known as milonga, and later worked on weekends as a doorman at local bars.
But now we're just descending into gossip. And no, I'm not against a future Pope dancing he Tango. I actually think it humanizes him. 
At the lab where he worked, Francis met one of the other women he mentions as a major influence in his life: his supervisor Ester Ballestrino. She was a Paraguayan feminist and communist militant, in her 30s, and she became a mentor to Francis.
But we've heard than one before, I think.

I know, and Pope Benedict XVI was a Nazi boy scout, or whatever you call it. We can't really choose our childhoods. And yes, to some degree we can't even choose our influences, or at least some of them. Sometimes we can even learn good things from bad people.

The trick is, having the intellectual and moral compass to take what is useful from what we are given and, as Pope Francis himself might say, move towards the good.

Instead of getting trapped by outmoded fashion.

ADDENDUM: Ann Barnhardt just wrote a post with the sort of "inappropriate" title that unfortunately is becoming more and more appropriate those days--Yes, Dears, Francis is a Peronist-Fascist--where she cited the acute comments of a South American (I think) observer of Peronism that appeared on Father Z's blog last year. The commenter nails this particularly noxious political philosophy pretty well, I think.


  1. A huge issue that these secular political commentators never make, indeed have no interest in making, is Francis' many and ongoing deviations from Catholic teaching in matters large and small. If he's a Peronist or a Marxist seems to me to be a secondary consideration to the question, "Is he a believer?" A piece in this week's Remnant by Fr. X examines the Spanish original of a speech or homily he gave in Latin America and judging from his words alone it seems to strongly indicate that he does not believe what the Church teaches about the miracles of Christ in the Gospels. This is a good deal more disturbing to me, and on a much more fundamental level, than what is the particular provenance of his politics.

    1. Agree. One can seriously question whether Pope Francis is even a Christian. His cares appear to be for this world only, and, about those, he speaks nonsense. God only knows why this man is Pope. It must surely be some kind of test for us.

    2. Trying to place Francis into any political/ideological camp misses the point.

      Francis is completely apolitical, aideological and definately areligious. All the man cares about is power. He is a demagogue. So trying to figure out if he is more Marxist than Peronist, or where those two circles meet on a Venn diagram is useless.

      Francis will say whatever he thinks the majority will want to hear. He can relate to atheists as easlity as he can to fundamentalist evangelicals. Proof is Laudato Si where Jesus rarely makes an appearance. But then again, what use would Francis have for a Jesus type when he is "trying to save the world".

    3. "All the man cares about is power." Well, yes (or probably yes). But that's the essence of Peronism. See the Ann Barnhardt piece.

      It's so difficult to put, say, myself into his place. Okay, I'm a 78 year old celibate male without a family. I am surrounded by riches and comfort but I can't really accumulate things or money. I do not believe in any particular set of ideas, even those I supposedly profess. All I care about is power because that's all I've ever cared about and I can't stop.

      I know there are people like that (such as you know who) but I find it impossible to understand them. If I were that burnt and cynical, I'd go for money or women, you know, like popes used to do. :)

    4. To be more precise, it is known as "narcissistic personality disorder". Peronism doesn't capture the totality of the man's problems. Clinically speaking that is.

  2. He's the last one in St Malachi's list.

  3. This worries me more about him then anything. No one fucks over Catholics more then the Catholic Church.

    1. Thanks for the link. That's interesting and sad.