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As cardinal, the future pope delivered a synagogue sermon twice and invited the rabbi to speak to Catholic seminary students. He also reached out to evangelical Christians and even the Mapuche, an indigenous South American tribal religion of the spirits.
The cardinal is less than plain-spoken about the role of the Catholic church during the Argentinian military dictatorship of the 1970s. In the book, the so-called ‘dirty war’ is euphemistically referred to as “problems.” Skorka’s synagogue under Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer was a strong critic of the military government.
“What did the Church do in those years?” the rabbi asks.
“(The church) did what an organization which has saints and sinners does. There were some men who combined both of these characteristics,” the cardinal replies. “For me it is one of the most tearful moments that weigh upon our nation.”
The cardinal compared the Argentine church to Chile’s church, which took a much more forceful stance against the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship.
“The way you wanted the Argentinian church to act was the way the Chilean church acted,” the cardinal tells the rabbi. “In Chile the church advocated a decided path, in which they took actions and made pronouncements.”
Ronnie Perelis is the Chief Rabbi Abraham and Jelena Alcalay Assistant Professor of Sephardic Studies, Yeshiva University.
Alan Brill is the Cooperman/Ross Endowed Professor, Seton Hall University.