But the investigation of the new pope Francis, confined to Argentina for now, is only beginning among human rights advocates and mainstream journalists. At the very least, the rise of Francis I may shed light on the dark alliances between Rome and Latin America's recent dictatorships.
The facts as we know them are, first, then-Cardinal Bergoglio's was sharply opposed to liberation theology, a radical religious social movement which achieved official recognition by Latin America's bishops at their conference in Medellin in August 1968. The liberation theology movement grew in response to official church indifference to the crying needs of the continental poor, during an era launched by the Cuban Revolution. In country after country, peasants formed "base communities", studied the bible in their own languages, and applied the lessons of Jesus to their wretched conditions under military dictators and big landowners. The process ignited a generation of lay Catholic "radicals" ranging from Sandinistas to Salvadoran priests to the early catechists who organized the Zapatista movement.
It's little known, but even the Port Huron Statement  was an early expression of the spiritual winds blowing from Vatican II. Similarly inspired were young theologians like Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who became the Chicago pastor of Barack Obama. [see, The Long Sixties, pp.150-55].
The counter-movement against liberation theology came from the Vatican, especially through Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then in charge of the office for "the propagation of the faith", which had been formerly the headquarters of the Inquisition. Liberation theology eventually was defunded, marginalized and vanquished with the direct assistance of the Reagan White House. Worse, dictatorships which practiced torture swept through Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Ecuador and Uruguay. Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI.
Something similar to the murky and controversial role of Pope Pius XII during the era of European fascism, Buenos Aires Cardinal Bergoglio co-existed with - many say collaborated with - the military rulers of Argentina who systematically engaged in torture, assassination, disappearances and even the kidnapping of children who were adopted by conservative Catholic parents. Cardinal Bergoglio was the Catholic Jesuit leader of Argentina from 1973 to 1979, overlapping the period of the "dirty war" [1976-83].
According to legal filings [since dropped] and recent interviews with Catholic critics of the new pope in the New York Times, Bergoglio dismissed two Jesuit priests who were critics of the dictatorship, and was complicit in their kidnapping by the military. After denying any contact with the military rulers, Bergoglio testified in 2010 that he had met secretly with Gen. Jorge Videla, and Adm. Emilio Massera, to ask for the release of the two priests. He also testified in 2010 on the junta's systematic kidnapping of children, "a subject he was accused of knowing about but failing to prevent." [NYT, Mar. 14]
IN 2005, when Bergoglio was heading Argentina's national conference of bishops, it was revealed that the church during the dictatorship gave protective cover to a police chaplain who finally was found guilty of seven counts of homicide, 40 counts of kidnapping and 30 torture cases. Cardinal Bergoglio never apologized for the cover-up, and the convicted priest, Rev. Christian von Wernich, was allowed to continue celebrating Mass in prison.
Argentina's elected president, Cristina Kirschner, has fought with Bergoglio on issues like gay marriage and abortion, calling his views "medieval" and comparing them to the Inquisition. She has not commented so far on his role during the dictatorship. Bergoglio, like Pope Pius before him, claimed in 2010 that he help hide Argentines on the run from the dictatorship and lobbied the generals behind the scenes for the release of some. Were his revelations true, or a necessary whitewashing of strains of fascism in the church's past? What is clear is that Bergoglio was not a serious critic of the junta and was complicit in the long hiding of police chaplain von Wernich.
How does torture compare to rape on the Vatican scales? How about collaborating in the abduction of small children whose biological parents have been tortured and disappeared? Many victims of kidnapping in the 70s have formed a movement in Argentina to hold accountable those who stole them from their families and forced them unknowingly to be raised by those who may have tortured their parents? How does that compare with the systemic sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church, or the entrapment of young girls to become virtual slaves in the infamous "laundries" of Dublin?
At the moment, of course, the eyes of many are glazed with rapturous gazes at the coming of the new Pope Francis, and for the moment the sordid past is in danger of being disappeared. The new Pope represents hope and pride for the Latin American future, and his sincere commitment to the poor is a welcome alternative to the reigning religion of the privileged. The very name "Francis" is inspiring to advocates of the poor, the disinherited, and all victims of environmental destruction. May he live up to it.
It's too much to expect that there will be a serious investigation of the Church's global role in propping up dictators over the decades. But the questions are likely to increase in Argentina and among victims of the right-wing "Operation Condor" that claimed lives across the continent in the 1970s and 1980s. From their graves, the dead may continue to bear witness through their survivors and inspire social movements, as they have in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, Mexico and many other places in Central and Latin America. Not only dictators could be under scrutiny this time, but their hidden ties to Catholic authorities.
Any investigations are sure to be inspired from Latin America. But the North American mainstream media bears responsibility for uncovering the story as well. That's not likely while so many in the media seem to be on their knees before the papacy. To take one example, Chris Matthews of MSNBC let his inner Catholic altar boy come joyously out during the Vatican announcement, at the expense of his job as a critical political reporter. Matthews apparently sees no need for restraint in embracing the papacy, by comparison to his sometimes-critical coverage of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.
Much then will be up to lay Catholics, and lapsed Catholics, who have been the driving force behind the exposure of the Church's sex scandals. The truth about Bergoglio and Argentina, whatever it may turn out to be, is buried deeper than the victims, and the motives of investigators and critics will come under malicious attack. Just as the "fog of war" hangs heavily on the present, so too does the fog of torture. But where the conscience does not rest, the facts may yet again be exhumed and the ghosts resurrected.