Alicia Oliveira, a former judge and critic of Argentina’s military regime during the 1970s, says that for more traditionalist circles in Argentina, Bergoglio always seemed “very light, very leftist,” so much so that she believes conservative elements in the country’s hierarchy may have mobilized to block his election to the papacy eight years ago. (Not so much this time, she believes, but only because he wasn’t mentioned nearly as prominently as a candidate.)
Mariano de Vedia, who covers religion and politics for La Nación, added another piece to the picture.
The only other Jesuit prelate in the country, he explained, is retired Bishop Joaquín Piña Batllevell of Puerto Iguazú. Back in 2006, Governor Carlos Rovira of the Misiones province where the diocese is located was seeking to jury-rig the provincial constitution in order to stay in power indefinitely.
Piña became the leader of a local movement called the United Front for Dignity, which fielded candidates for a constitutional assembly to block Rovira’s ambitions. It was seen as a progressive pro-democracy uprising, basically a left-of-center enterprise.
According to de Vedia, it’s widely believed that Piña was operating with the behind-the-scenes blessing of his fellow Jesuit Bergoglio — another reason, he said, that people in the know would not regard Bergoglio as a “conservative.”
Perhaps the most interesting read on where Bergoglio stands came from Juan Carr, a renowned social activist in Argentina and a 2012 Nobel Peace Prize nominee.
In Latin American Catholicism, he told me April 3, “I’ve noticed a growing split between a church completely focused on the spiritual side, and a church that’s completely committed to the social issues but without addressing the devotional needs of the people.”
“Bergoglio is a rare figure who transcends that divide, embracing both.”
What does all this mean going forward?
According to Fr. Pedro Brunori, an Opus Dei priest who served for ten years as director of the Vatican Information Service and who’s now back in Argentina as a hospital and university chaplain, it’s likely that the most significant opposition to Francis over time will come from the Catholic right rather than the left.
Some conservatives, Brunori predicted in an April 2 interview, may well see the “simplification” of Catholic life under Francis as “eliminating something of the essence of the church.”