The impossible interview: The pope and the journalist

BY JERRY TALLMER | JACOBO TIMERMAN, journalist, publisher, author, born Bar, Ukraine, January 15, 1923 — died Buenos Aires, Argentina, November 11, 1999.

JORGE MARIO BERGOGLIO, born Buenos Aires, Argentina, December 17, 1936. Former priest, bishop, archbishop, cardinal, now Pope Francis I.

THE JOURNALIST: Father — is that how I should address you? — Your grace? — Good sir? Please accept this rather musty copy of my book “Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number.” When it came out in the United States in 2001, it caused quite a stir. The chapters on electronic torture…that was the year of America’s 9/11. It was also the year, I believe, that you became cardinal of Argentina. I was wondering whether —

THE PONTIFF: My son, I thank you — but we in the Vatican are not allowed to accept gifts of any kind, no matter how well-intentioned.

THE JOURNALIST: Oh, your worship, my passing along this book wasn’t meant as a gift — or well-intentioned either. The intention was educational. I don’t know how much you know, sir, about electronic torture — or any torture, for that matter — since vocal opposition to torture seems not to have been among the many good works you have done — and I know how you’ve always warmly embraced Argentina’s Jews — through all the years of the Juntas and their “Dirty War.”

I mean, when at least 30,000 men and women of all ages were kidnaped off the streets, raped, beaten, tortured, thrown from aircraft into the ocean, the women’s newborn infants handed over to Fascist households… .

THE PONTIFF (in Spanish): Stop! Stop, my son! How old are you, anyway, that you should know such evil?

THE JOURNALIST: Well, I was 76 when I departed this earth, not that that means anything. I was 54 when they put me in that cell, in solitary, and then on the torture table. The point is, I know such evil because I learned the hard way — from the electrodes. But they made a mistake — they didn’t kill me. So I went to Israel for a while, and I wrote “Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number” to teach people what torture is all about… . Would you like to know, sir, what they can do with those electrodes… .

THE PONTIFF: (his hands over his ears): No, no, in the name of Jesus Christ, Our Lord, please no!

THE JOURNALIST: I looked you up on Google, you know, and in The New York Times. There’s a lot about how you’ve fought for the poor and the humble and the needy all your life — stood up to the bosses and the big corporations, the exploiters of the salt of the earth — but very little about your standing up to the bemedaled bastards of Juntas 1, 2, 3 and 4. Oh, maybe a discrete phone call or two when the Peronistas had snatched up a couple of ultra-radical Catholic priests, but anything more than that — silence.

Indeed, Google puts it discreetly this way:

“His relationship with the military Junta during the National Reorganization Process remains controversial.”

National Reorganization Process! The Nazis did some reorganizing, too, in the years when the pope was Pius XII. He kept his mouth shut while 10 times 6 million died. I hope, your reverence, that the world will remember you for something other than that.

THE PONTIFF: My son, what will be will be. Rest in peace. Amen.

With apologies to Miguel Covarrubias and Vanity Fair, the originators of “Impossible Interviews.”

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