The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

March 13, 2013

Pope Francis is known for simplicity, humility

(Continued)

Bergoglio's influence seemed to stop at the presidential palace door after Nestor Kirchner and then his wife, Cristina Fernandez, took over the Argentina's government.

His church had no say when the Argentine Supreme Court expanded access to legal abortions in rape cases, and when Bergoglio argued that gay adoptions discriminate against children, Fernandez compared his tone to "medieval times and the Inquisition."

This kind of demonization is unfair, says Rubin, who obtained an extremely rare interview of Bergoglio for his biography, "The Jesuit."

"Is Bergoglio a progressive — a liberation theologist even? No. He's no third-world priest. Does he criticize the International Monetary Fund, and neoliberalism? Yes. Does he spend a great deal of time in the slums? Yes," Rubin said.

Bergoglio has stood out for his austerity. Even after he became Argentina's top church official in 2001, he never lived in the ornate church mansion where Pope John Paul II stayed when visiting the country, preferring a simple bed in a downtown building, heated by a small stove on frigid weekends. For years, he took public transportation around the city, and cooked his own meals.

Bergoglio almost never granted media interviews, limiting himself to speeches from the pulpit, and was reluctant to contradict his critics, even when he knew their allegations against him were false, said Rubin.

That attitude was burnished as human rights activists tried to force him to answer uncomfortable questions about what church officials knew and did about the dictatorship's abuses after the 1976 coup.

Many Argentines remain angry over the church's acknowledged failure to openly confront a regime that was kidnapping and killing thousands of people as it sought to eliminate "subversive elements" in society. It's one reason why more than two-thirds of Argentines describe themselves as Catholic, but fewer than 10 percent regularly attend mass.

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