(translated and edited by L. Pavese)
In the past few days, the international media have been entertaining us on the relations between the Jesuit Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis I, and an Argentine political organization called the Iron Guard. A few articles were quite accurate; others created considerable confusion, leaving one with the impression that the Holy Father belonged to a dangerous “fascist” association, or to a “communist” one, depending on the inclination of the writers. The true story is curious enough to deserve to be clearly told.
The political life of 20th century Argentina up to our present day has been vastly dominated by that typically Argentine phenomenon called “Justicialísmo” (the Movement for Justice), or Peronism, from the name of its founder, General Juan Domingo Perón (1895-1974). General Perón was president of Argentina from 1946 to 1955, and again in 1973-1974.
|Juan Domingo Perón|
Peronism is a very complex phenomenon. It is subject to different interpretations and it is possible to identify various phases in the history of the movement.
In its original stage, Peronism manifested itself as a curious mix of symbols and styles borrowed from European fascist movements and portions of political theory which derived from socialist and leftist thought. The latter aspect prevailed in the final phase of the General’s life: it was a sort of “national-socialist”, anti-capitalist, anti-American (in the sense of anti-United States), nationalistic movement, characterized also by an almost mystical attitude as far as its advocacy of the poor and underprivileged was concerned.
The story of Perón’s relationship with the Catholic church is also very complex: being essentially anti-clerical, Juan Domingo Perón dreamt of a church under the control of the state and in 1955 he was even excommunicated. At the same time, a great number of his followers were Catholic, and found many points in common between the social doctrine of the Church and the advocacy of the most disadvantaged classes on the part of General Perón.
|General Perón and his wife Eva María|
Perón’s first presidency was overthrown in 1955 by a coup d’état of the military, who took also advantage of the General’s state of prostration after the death of his beloved wife, Eva "Evita" (1919-1952), who was herself a popular culture and entertainment icon. From that moment on, several pro-Perón movements began to work towards the repatriation and the return to power of their leader, who was in exile in Madrid, Spain. Among these groups there was a fiercely anti-communist right wing component, which was linked to a very ambiguous former Perón’s aid, José Lopez Rega (1916-1989), also known as “El Brujo” (the sorcerer) because of his involvement with a complex network of esoteric and masonic intrigues; and a leftist faction, who was influenced by Marxism and was willing to cooperate with the communists.
There was also a “middle,” which sometimes is defined as “purely Peronist,” but it is critically labelled “leftist” by the right and as “right wing” by the left.
This “political middle” was strongly characterized by the cult for the personality of the General. It was comprised of young people in particular, and it originated several organizations. The largest and best structured of these organizations was the Guardia de Hierro, the Iron Guard, which was founded in 1961 by Alejandro Álvarez (1936-living).
It seems that the name Iron Guard had been suggested by one of Álvarez’s young friends, Mario Ambrosoni, and that Álvarez happily accepted it, because the father of Álvarez (who was nicknamed “El Gallego”) had been born in La Guardia, in Galicia; but apart from the name Guardia, the link between the Argentine movement and the Romanian Iron Guard is very weak.
The Romanian group, founded by Corneliu Zelea Codreanu (1899-1938), was the armed faction of the League of the Archangel Michael. Ambrosoni knew a little about the Romanian formation and he talked about it with his friends, who welcomed the idea to adopt the name of a far-right European organization, to counteract the criticism of the people who considered them closer to the left, as a few of them actually were; but it is a stretch of the imagination to attribute to the Argentine Iron Guard the same ideas of the Romanian Iron Guard, and to use this alleged relation to attack Pope Francis.
|Alejandro "El Gallego" Álvarez|
During the years following the creation of the Argentine Iron Guard two significant developments took place. The first was the increasingly hard confrontation between the Guardia de Hierro and the so-called Montoneros. The Montoneros were far-left Peronist militants, who had chosen the way of armed opposition. Their ideas were rooted in a progressive, pro-Marxist form of Catholicism; although many of them originally belonged to a nationalist/labor-unionist Catholic movement, the Tacuara, which took its inspiration from Italian fascism and was led by the Catholic priest Alberto Ezcurra Uriburru (1937-1993).
While confronting the Montoneros, The Iron Guard (that had received from Juan Domingo Perón himself the order to resist the temptation of any form of armed conflict, and to engage instead in widespread propaganda) maintained a dialogue with the other Peronist organizations, particularly with the FEN (the National Student Front), which eventually led to the merger of the two groups into the OUTG (Organización Única de Trasvase Generacional [The Organization for Generational Unification]) in 1972.
|Evita Montonera? Hardly.|
All these Peronist groups maintained a relation with the Catholic world and, in particular, with the Argentine Jesuits who, like many bishops, while they mistrusted Perón, had reached the conclusion that, in the Peronist universe, there was at least the hope to solve the endemic Argentine problems of corruption and poverty. The Jesuits who were linked to the pro-Marxist Liberation Theology sided with the Montoneros, while Father Bergoglio (who in 1973 had become Provincial Superior of the Company of Jesus, and was hostile to the Theology of Liberation) maintained a relationship with several members of the Iron Guard.
The victory of the young Peronists, with the return of the aging Perón and his election to the presidency in 1973, marked, at the same time, their defeat. In a sense, the Iron Guard was not prepared for the return of the General, let alone for his death in 1974: the mystical aspect of the political movement entailed the vision of a distant leader who was not involved with daily mundane administrative problems.
After the death of Perón, Álvarez decided to disband the Iron Guard, and the OUTG, while continuing at the same time to give his support to the government of Perón’s widow, Isabelita, until the military coup that overthrew her of 1976.
After the military take-over, the persecution against many Peronist organizations began. The leadership of the Iron Guard managed to survive thanks to their good relationship with the Argentine Navy, and (according to many books that tell the story) to the intercession of Father Bergoglio, who relied greatly on the help of former members of the Guard to transfer the control of the historic University El Salvador of Buenos Aires from the clergy to the laity, creating for them, at the same time, a network of protection.
While some former members of the Guard tried to continue their political activity, for many of them the period of dictatorship signified retirement to private life and a genuine rediscover of their Catholic faith.
In 1978 Alejandro Álvarez came in contact with the Italian group Comunione e Liberazione in Rome; and mainly through the person of Rocco Buttiglione he began a relationship with the Italian movement. Buttiglione’s analysis of the Polish movement Solidarnosc eventually inspired an attempt to launch several political and labor initiatives in Argentina, and later even a political party called Solidaridad; but compared to the success of the Iron Guard and the OUTG, which in their time were very influential organizations with thousands of members, the results of the new Argentine party turned out to be very modest. Father Bergoglio who, since 1992, had been the Auxiliary Bishop of Buenos Aires, initially followed these initiatives with favor; but the relationship came to an end when, on one side, in a rapidly changing Argentina, Álvarez’s group became increasingly irrelevant, and on the other side there emerged a mystical tendency of the group with very peculiar traits.
|Argentinian President Kirchner and the Pope.|
From the thesis spread by the movement, that the ideas of the Blessed John Paul II, on the necessary balance between faith and reason, derived from the work of Amelia Podetti (a philosopher linked to the Iron Guard), the group gradually moved to presenting Pope Wojtila as the universal heir of General Juan Domingo Perón, in a context in which private revelations became increasingly important.
A few of the former members of the Iron Guard remained active in the complex world of Argentine Peronism (to which today’s President Cristina Kirchner, who comes from its most leftist wing, also belongs). Others, like Alejandro Álvarez, dedicated most of their energies to their devotion to the Virgin Mary of the Rosary of San Nicolás, and to a private organization of worshipers, the Order of Mary.
|The Sanctuary of San Nicolás|
San Nicolás is a location where, since 1983, many apparitions of the Virgin Mary have taken place. The visions have not been formally recognized by the Catholic hierarchy who, nevertheless, authorized pilgrimages to the site and the construction of a great sanctuary. The cult of the Virgen de San Nicolás also favored a rapprochement between Álvarez and the aforementioned Father Ezcurra Uriburru (who represented a Catholic far-right that had been at the antipodes of the Iron Guard), and the origination of an odd synthesis of politics and devotion which was denominated “fideipolitica”.
The Order of Mary of the Rosary of San Nicolás originated in this atmosphere. At the basis of the cult there are the prophecies of Juan Domingo Rodríguez (approved by Álvarez in person), to whom General Perón, Mary and Jesus appeared (says he).
The story became even more bizarre when Segundo Ubaldo Rolón, a former member of parliament, who had been elected with the votes of the Iron Guard in 1983, said that Rodríguez had recognized him as Pope Peter II, designated directly from Heaven.
In 2008, the same year in which Peter II published his first encyclical, the Anti-Pope also published a completely new liturgy, called the Mass Fideipolitica.
Peter II appoints apostles, celebrates weddings and continues to spread his apocalyptic prophecies with his girlfriend Liliana Reyes, with whom he lives after having divorced from his wife. The couple call themselves the “Emperors of the World” and even impart teachings on sexuality, in which is not difficult to discern the influence of some forms of South-American esoterism.
|The Anti-Pope Peter II and his girlfriend|
The Argentine Catholic hierarchy has condemned Segundo Rolón’s sect, The Central School of Life, as a new non-Catholic religious movement; so did Alejandro Álvarez who, notwithstanding his interest for prophecies and apparitions, intends to remain in the Catholic Church.
As far as the true Pope is concerned, Francis I, his sympathies for the Iron Guard go back to a time during which the entire Argentine Catholic church looked to the Peronist constellation for an alternative to the various military dictatorships; and the interlocutors that the Jesuit Father Bergoglio found in that world were not, by any means, the worst.
In the end, the relationship of Father Bergoglio with the Peronist groups turned out to be a praiseworthy action to protect politically persecuted people.
According to the account of a Jesuit who favored the Theology of Liberation, which can be found in the book by Alejandro C. Tarruella “The Iron Guard”: “Thanks to the intervention of Bergoglio, a lot of people were spared.”
This very interesting article was originally published on the Italian on-line daily La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana . For a complete biography of its author, Massimo Introvigne, please click his name at the beginning of the post.
I'd like to thank Riccardo Cascioli for letting me translate the article and J.J.P for reviewing the English translation.
Your comments, as usual, will be greatly appreciated.