These letters are published in the Friday 15 March 2013 edition of The Independent
The elevation of Pope Francis has received the usual supine, unquestioning media coverage, and been hailed by heads of government around the world. We are told that as Archbishop of Buenos Aires Bergoglio took public transport, lived in an apartment, and cooked his own meals. Remarkable achievements!
Missing from the coverage were any serious questions that have been raised in Argentina about Bergoglio’s role within the Church during the military’s rule between 1976 and 1983. During this time an estimated 30,000 left-wing opponents of the junta were “disappeared” in a US-backed “dirty war”. The Argentinian Catholic Church enjoyed intimate relations with the military, both in the lead-up to its seizure of power and under the junta.
Bergoglio was ordained in 1969, and served as the Jesuit Provincial for Argentina between 1973 and 1979, before becoming rector of the Philosophical and Theological Faculty of San Miguel between 1980 and 1986. In the 1990s he began to be promoted up the Church hierarchy by Pope John Paul II.
Under the junta’s rule, Bergoglio worked to enforce within his Jesuit order the Vatican’s edicts against “liberation theology”. In 2012, responding to growing disgust among ordinary Argentines, Bergoglio issued a statement on behalf of the country’s bishops formally apologising for the Church’s “failures” during the dirty war, while at the same time placing equal blame for the violence on the military dictatorship and its left-wing opponents.
Alan Hinnrichs, Dundee
It is right that there should be scrutiny of the record of any person who has public office and who may have been complicit in crimes against humanity in the past. It is not right that the record of one person should be highlighted and that of others at least as deeply involved passed over in virtual silence.
When it comes to the cruelty of the Argentine government, and so many other South American governments of the past, who systematically tortured and killed their own people, innocent of all crime, over a period of many years, I wonder what has been the record of British and American leaders and a handful of powerful western media barons, when it was all going on.
We have seen Hugo Chavez hammered in the media in recent days, a very shameful business. I wonder, was there anything like the same condemnation of the Argentine junta from those who could have mitigated and possibly put an end to the terror just by speaking out, and, unlike the present Pope, done so at no risk to themselves?
B O’Brien, London N21
Surely our new Pope has taken his name from St Francis Xavier, one of the seven founders of the Jesuit order in 16th-century Spain, rather than the Italian St Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscans in the 12th century, who never was a Catholic priest.
Anna Taylor, Sunbury, Middlesex
There go the Falklands!
David L Gosling, Cambridge
Osborne ignores opportunities for green growth
Your Budget advice to Mr Osborne is dispiritingly tame and incomplete (leading article, 13 March). That austerity cannot be avoided does not mean the Chancellor is right to stick to his version of it, and you do not engage with those who put forward alternatives.
He may not have growth “within his gift”, but it should at least be within his sight, and targeted at that most essential area of future expansion: rapid adjustment to climate change. You want him to focus public spending where it is most economically productive, but make no mention of cutting “inefficient” defence (Trident etc) or the special need to boost funding for science and engineering, with a bias towards alternative energy and the search for new antibiotics.
Above all, he needs to convince more of us that he is committed both to remedying the causes of austerity and to reversing a growing wealth gap that insulates the few from the alienating privations of the many.
In this task, it is the job of political leadership to create more room for manoeuvre than the “exceedingly limited room” you allow – by getting more of the nation behind him. We need a vision of future possibility we can all share.
Richard Bryden, Llandudno, Gwynedd
Case for a ‘private’ NHS
Why are the public so scared about NHS privatisation? I believe they fear an American type of system, where individuals have to pay into private health insurance schemes that may not cover the costs of their treatment. This is irrational; the UK is one of few countries to have a monolithic public sector structure providing health care. Others have highly decentralised or completely privatised systems which are nonetheless backed by taxation and public funds.
In Europe, they have social insurance models; in Singapore and the US state of Indiana, as well as China, citizens pay compulsory national insurance contributions as well as voluntary funds into a Health Savings Account. That pushes down prices and costs for the state. For example in Indiana, health spending for the state fell by 10 per cent when this scheme was introduced.
There is no argument to be had whether health care should be run for profit, as most things that are run for profit are much better than anything the state has ever provided. If the private sector can do it more efficiently, effectively and at a much lower cost without privatising the means of payment too much, what is not to like?
James Paton, Billericay, Essex
People do drink more if it’s cheap
For those of us working hard to reduce alcohol-related harm, it is hard to understand why David Cameron should be considering a U-turn on minimum pricing for alcohol.
It hardly needs to be reiterated that alcohol is responsible for enormous amounts of harm, ranging from poor parenting (2.6 million children affected) to massive costs for the NHS (approximately £3bn per year). International research has shown that the cost of alcohol does have a bearing on how much people drink, and that drinking levels have gone up in the West since alcohol became freely available from supermarkets at very low prices.
It is mainly high-strength alcoholic drinks such as vodka that will be affected by a minimum unit price – and this is the drink of choice for many young people wanting to get drunk quickly at low cost.
No one has ever claimed that minimum pricing will solve all of our alcohol woes – but it is a step in the right direction – and abandoning it will take us back to square one.
Marolin Watson, Hope UK, London SE1
Cull the deer and curb the ticks
Your report on the possible cull of deer did overlook one important point – the increasing incidence of tick bites and the possibility of catching Lyme disease.
In an area where we used to play in the long grass as children without any problems, we now are regularly bitten by ticks when gardening. Locally we know of two cases of this nasty disease, one of which has had serious consequences. We also know of many others in the area who have been bitten just by being out in the garden or walking in the area, and I also understand that research by Bristol University suggests that the proportion of ticks carrying the disease is increasing. It is clear that a cull of deer is needed, sooner rather than later.
Those like David Gibbs (letter, 11 March) who wish to cull the human population are invited to help us in the garden. They may wish to choose the summer, which will enable them to wear short trousers and short-sleeved shirts, thus giving the ticks a real opportunity to bite them.
Brian Bennett, Consiton, Cumbria
Passport to Birmingham
I was planning to attend a small one-day scientific meeting at the University of Birmingham. As part of the registration, I was asked to provide a copy of my passport, to prove my entitlement to be in the UK.
The University of Birmingham says this is a consequence of new regulations from the UK Border Agency, in relation to Birmingham’s new licence as a Highly Trusted Sponsor, and it applies to all visitors to the university, whatever the circumstances. I have decided not to attend.
Dr L P Stoter, Stotfold, Bedfordshire
Prince in a land of injustice
The report that Saudi Arabia has executed seven young men, two of whom were under 18 years of age at the time of their alleged offences, shows yet again the contempt the government of that country has for lives other than their own and their families’.
Prince Charles is at present visiting Saudi Arabia; if he had any feelings he should cancel the visit and urge his family not to have any dealings with such a country, and that includes the sale of arms.
Len Aldis, London E3
Not too smart
Google’s hi-tech spectacles, which deliver digital information to the wearer’s right eye, may look really cool, but are predicted to come at a thousand pounds a pop. Given that smartphones, which cost a mere few hundred, appear to be vulnerable to theft even when clutched in the hand, is it wise to balance this new device on your nose?
Goff Sargent, Loughborough, Leicestershire
Top of the class
Surely the small minority who can afford private education are “upper class”? (Deborah Ross, 7 March.) To call them “middle class” is to collude with the Government’s propaganda that we are “all in this together”.
Julian Gardiner, Elstree, Hertfordshire
It has rained almost constantly for months. This week snow lay across a large swathe of the South-east. When are the water-companies going to impose a hose-pipe ban?
Tim Symonds, Burwash, East Sussex