This turmoil was exemplified by the monumentally lethal “Dirty War” that raged in two phases in Argentina from 1973 until 1983. By this time Bergoglio was serving amid growing controversy as the Provincial Superior of the Society of Jesus in Argentina (1973 to 1979), and then as the Rector of the Philosophical and Theological Faculty of San Miguel until 1986 when he was abruptly removed. His actions or inactions during this period are now being re-examined as he assumes papal power. Referring to the enthusiasm with which he accepted his new role, the New York Times observed that “he was less energetic when it came to standing up to Argentina’s military dictatorship during the 1970s as the country was consumed by … the Dirty War. He has been accused of knowing about abuses and failing to do enough to stop them.” “History condemns him,” declared a senior Brazilian academic. “It shows him to be opposed to all innovation in the church and above all, during the dictatorship, it shows he was very cosy with the military.” Francis rejected suggestions that he had hard-right sympathies, claiming that it was merely his “authoritarian way of making decisions” while he was head of the Argentinian Jesuits in the 1970s “that created problems” in the past. Nevertheless, such problems were substantial and the criticism he faces has been emphatic. For example, a presently serving provincial of another Latin American country and one of the most senior figures in the Society of Jesus confided his negative views in an e-mail quoted by Paul Vallely, in his new biography, Pope Francis: Untying the Knots (2013):
Yes, I know Bergoglio. He’s a person who’s caused a lot of problems in the Society and is highly controversial in his own country … As Provincial he generated divided loyalties: some groups almost worshipped him, while others would have nothing to do with him … He left the Society of Jesus in Argentina destroyed [and] we have spent two decades trying to fix the chaos that the man left us … It will be a catastrophe for the Church to have someone like him in the Apostolic See.
As Vallely observes, “this constituted an extraordinary counterblast” to the acclaim that otherwise met the election of Pope Francis, but it was “far from a lone voice” from within the Jesuit order to which Bergoglio had dedicated a major part of his adult life. It is clear that great bitterness enveloped Bergoglio during his time as Provincial Superior, as Vallely’s account reveals. Regarded as a gifted and charismatic young man, Bergoglio had enjoyed a rapid ascent through the ranks to head the order at only thirty-six, just three months after taking his perpetual vows. Under his leadership the province broke up into Bergogliano and anti-Bergogliano factions, driven, Vallely argues, by two polarising forces: Vatican II and Peronism.