22Mar Leonardo Boff believes Francis always took the side of victims

Leonardo Boff: “What matters isn’t Bergoglio and his past, but Francis and his future”

By Fabiana Frayssinet (English translation by Rebel Girl) IPS

March 18, 2013


RÍO DE JANEIRO — Brazilian theologian Leonard Boff, a proponent of the progressive line in the Latin American Catholic Church, doesn’t believe the denunciations that describe the new Pope Francis as a collaborator with the last Argentina dictatorship.

In an interview with IPS, Boff admits that it’s a “controversial subject,” with contradictory versions. But he prefers to trust the outpourings of notorious defenders of human rights in Argentina, who are denying any link between Jorge Bergoglio, who was elected pope by the Vatican, and the military regime that Argentina endured from 1976 to 1983.

Boff, a key figure in liberation theology, looks forward with hope and trusts that Francis will live up to his status as a Jesuit and be “energetic and radical” against the epidemic of pedophilia and corruption that currently plague the Catholic leadership.


IPS: How do your interpret the “decentralization” that having elected a Latin American pope implies?

LEONARDO BOFF: The central Church, that is, the Vatican and the European churches, felt humiliated and embarassed by theembarrassed scandals created within their own walls. So they chose someone from outside, with a different spirit and another style to lead the Church.

Sixty percent of Catholics live in the Third World. It was time to listen better to those churches. They are no longer mirror-churches of Europe but source-churches, with their own face and ways of organizing themselves, generally in networks of communities.

For me, the name “Francis” is more than a name; it’s a plan for a poor Church, one that is close to the people, gospel-centered, loving and protective towards nature which is being devastated today. Saint Francis is the archetype of that type of Church. With Pope Francis, a Church of the third millenium is being inaugurated — far from the palaces and in the midst of the peoples and their cultures.


IPS: To what do you attribute the preference for Bergoglio against Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Scherer?

LB: Scherer was the candidate of the Vatican, where he had worked and made many friends. But he publicly defended the Curia and the Vatican Bank, which have been criticized by everyone, including many cardinals. That unleashed a public argument, which burned him. Moreover, he wouldn’t have been good for the current situation in the Church. He’s conservative and authoritarian. He would have been a Benedict XVII.


IPS: Bergoglio’s election was criticized because of his alleged complicity in the kidnapping of two Jesuit priests during the dictatorship.

LB: I know that, in general, the Argentine Church wasn’t prophetic in denouncing state terrorism. Despite that, there were bishops like (Enrique) Angelleli, who died in a sinister way, (Jorge) Novak, (Jaime) De Nevares, and Jerónimo Podestá, among others, who were clearly critical.

But with respect to Bergoglio, I prefer to believe Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Nobel peace prize winner, and the former member of the Comisión Nacional sobre la Desaparición de Personas (Graciela Fernández Meijide) who have called that accusation libelous. They never found Bergoglio’s name even once in the documents and complaints.

On the contrary, he saved many people by hiding them in the Colegio Máximo de San Miguel. Furthermore, it goes against his character which is already known, as a man who is both strong and tender, a poor man who has continuously denounced the existing social injustices in Argentina and the need for justice and not just philanthropy.

Finally, what matters isn’t Bergoglio and his past, but Francis and his future.


IPS: Why did you ignore this issue in your initial statements?

LB: It’s a controversial matter and one has to know it well. The versions are contradictory. I don’t talk about things I’m not clear about. And I’m wondering what interest some groups have in raising this question and not talking about the serious crisis in the Church and its meaning in the face of the crisis of humankind.

Maybe — this I’ll concede — he could have been more prophetic, like Bishop Hélder Câmara and Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns were in Brazil. But here the state is secular and separate from the Church. In Argentina, Catholicism is the state religion, which makes it hard but doesn’t keep there from being resistance and denunciations from part of the Church.


IPS: Isn’t omission a sin?

LB: The question isn’t to answer whether or not it’s a sin. That’s a religious issue. The question is political and for me it’s which side the person is on — the side of the poor, of those who suffer evil inequality? Or of the status quo that wants unlimited growth and a culture of consumption? In 1990, four percent of Argentinians were poor. Now it’s 33 percent (according to unofficial measurements).

Bergoglio took the side of those victims and demanded social justice. If we don’t understand this, we’re getting away from the main point.


IPS: You attributed his choice of the name Francis to the “demoralization” of a “Church in ruins” because of various scandals. How should that name be expressed in practice?

LB: He has given signs of a different type of papacy, without symbols of power or privileges. A pope who pays his bills at the hotel, who goes in a simple car to pray at the Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica and secretly visits his friend, Cardinal Jorge Mejía, who fell ill in Rome…, they’re acts that the people understand.

I’m sure that with respect to the pedophiles and the financial crimes, he’ll be more Jesuit than Franciscan, energetic and radical, because the Church can’t go on as it is.


IPS: The new pope thought he saw “the hand of the Devil” in issues like the decriminalization of abortion and homosexual marriage in Argentina and he has confronted the government because of this. Should we anticipate a pope who is equally or more conservative on these doctrinal issues?

LB: These subjects are prohibited by the Vatican. Nobody would be able to stray from the official position. I hope that Francis, as pope, would enable a broad discussion of all these issues, because they’re part of the real life of the people and the new culture that is emerging, especially the problem of celibacy and sexual morality.

This doesn’t mean that the Church would renounce its fundamental positions, but that it would discuss them democratically and would have to respect what is democratically decided. The good thing about democracy is that it prevents top-down impositions and allows different opinions to be heard, even if they don’t prove to be winning ones.

8 Responses

  1. Nuala O'Driscoll

    I think Pope Francis would do well to have Leonardo Boff as his chief adviser!

  2. Soline Humbert

    ” The Argentine Church (meaning the church hierarchy?) wasn’t prophetic in denouncing state terrorism”…
    Sunday 24th March, Palms Sunday,is the 33rd anniversary of the martyrdom of archbishop Oscar Romero. May we be inspired by his faith and couraged and helped by his intercession.


  3. Darlene Starrs

    Thank for your comments Nuala and Soline. When I was studying theology in the late 80’s, I would say that Leonardo Boff was one of my favorite theologians because of his work in base community and because of his description of ‘sacramentals’, the things of life, than are experienced as ‘holy’. I applaud his statement that it is “it isn’t Bergoglio and his past that matters, but Francis and his future.” We have already witnessed “tremendous” things about Pope Francis…..imagine…..he will conduct Holy Thursday Services for some of youth in prison……How that experience could speak of God to these young people….Bravo, Pope Francis!

  4. Eddie Finnegan

    1.To borrow Pádraig McCarthy’s question from his analogy in tackling Fintan O’Toole’s patronising treatment of Pope Francis:
    “Did the churches do enough during the 30 years of conflict in the North?”
    2.Oblique answer from Leonardo Boff: “I know that, in general, the Argentine Church wasn’t prophetic in denouncing state terrorism.”
    3. “I understand that they don’t understand. What I don’t understand is why they don’t understand.” [Tomás Ó Fiaich on his southern episcopal colleagues’ failure to respond adequately to “the North” in the early 1980s.]

  5. Nuala O'Driscoll

    I think it’s fear. I think this is the same reason for the deafening silence from the many priests whom I know agree with Tony Flannery, Sean Fagan et al but won’t put their heads above the parapet. There were only three of the disciples at the foot of the cross…..

  6. Joe O'Leary

    “Boff believes” or “Boff prefers to believe” — in his first interview he preferred to say nothing about that aspect. I fear that the wishful thinking of Boff, Kung, Alberto Melloni and Massimo Faggioli about the new pope will soon cede to disillusion. John Allen lists five litmus tests of Francis as reformer and misses the only significant litmus test, Collegiality. I doubt if Francis will effectively reform the Curia and I doubt still more that he will bring in more collegial governance. I hope to be surprised. What he could do to stop the repression of theological thought would be to make Cardinal Kasper prefect of the CDF.

  7. Paddy Ferry

    Joe, we have to be allowed to continue to hope just now — after the despair of the last 35 years.

  8. Mary O Vallely

    Like Paddy @7 I am determined to remain hope-filled. Even Hebe de Bonafin, leader of the mothers of Plaza de Mayo, has had a change of heart: