New Pope Criticized For His Association With Argentina's Dirty War

Audie Cornish talks to Ian Mount, a freelance reporter in Buenos Aires, for more on Catholicism in Argentina, the home country of Pope Francis I.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

The first pope ever from the Americas, it is a remarkable first. Pope Francis was cardinal of Buenos Aires in Argentina, known for his humility, his advocacy for the poor and, recently, his opposition to same-sex marriage when it was legalized in Argentina in 2010.

Now, for more from the new pope's home country, we've reached Ian Mount, a freelance reporter in Buenos Aires. Welcome to the program, Ian.

IAN MOUNT: Thanks for having me on.

CORNISH: So this must be an exciting day in Argentina.

MOUNT: It is, indeed. Argentina is not the most religious country, as far as Catholic countries go. You know, the church has had a troubled history here in recent years because that some of its members were complicit with the Dirty War. And yet, there's great pride with, you know, cafes erupted in cheers. It was much like when Argentina wins a soccer game in the World Cup.

CORNISH: I want to talk more about that. But first, I want to talk a little bit more about the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as he was known before today. He's been described as being appreciated for his humility. Tell us more about what that looks like.

MOUNT: Among other things, he was known for riding the subway to work; not for being glamorous, for being incredibly humble in his public statements and public style in a sort of traditional, I guess, Jesuit way. Or more like St. Francis, I guess, he's sort of named himself after.

CORNISH: And you mentioned just now about Argentina's troubled past with an oppressive military dictator from the mid-'70s through the '80s. And some have criticized Pope Francis for not standing up to the government enough then. Is this a mark against him for Argentineans?

MOUNT: It definitely is for some because - especially those on the left in Argentina, who suffered the most during the dictatorship. The church's role and support of the dictatorship hasn't been fully shown under the light of day. There's one well-known Argentine investigative journalist, Horacio Verbitsky, who wrote, I believe, a book called "Silencio," "The Silence," about this. And in part, it mentioned Bergoglio in it as - maybe not a leading member of the dictatorship, but someone who knew about it and was complicit.

So, definitely for younger Argentines and those on the left, it's not a positive thing.

CORNISH: If you could tell us a little bit more also today about social issues in Argentina, we know that the pope has taken some conservative stands there. Tell us more about it.

MOUNT: Well, several years ago, there was a flap between the now-pope and the governments of Ernesto de Kirchner and his successor and wife, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, over what they call equal marriage - gay marriage. Down here, he made a very strong stand against it and also a very strong stand against children being adopted by gay couples.

CORNISH: And lastly, Ian, a big issue has been about the sort of social work for Pope Francis, and do we expect to see that in his ideology?

MOUNT: I expect so. I mean, I think he is best known for making an issue of the damages to human rights and to humanity in general caused by poverty. So, you know, I expect poverty would be a central part - or eliminating poverty, or addressing it would be a central part of his role.

CORNISH: Freelance reporter Ian Mount, he joined us from Buenos Aires. Thank you.

MOUNT: You're welcome. Thank you very much for having me.

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