SAO PAULO, Brazil -- As Pope Francis visits Brazil this week, hes being praised as a humble pontiff for the poor, just the person, the Vatican hopes, who can reinvigorate a Roman Catholic Church beset by scandals and secrecy in a land where the number of practicing Catholics has plummeted in recent years.
But next door in his native Argentina, not all are impressed with the stories of his rejecting the stately Vatican quarters the pope traditionally has occupied, or the plush papal finery and luxury cars.
He is a good actor, said Estela de la Cuadra, whos 77. The image the Vatican is constructing makes me indignant, she said over the weekend.
When her sister Elena was kidnapped while five months pregnant in 1977 by Argentinas military dictatorship, her family appealed to the pope, who was known then by his real name, Father Jorge Bergoglio, the head of Argentinas Jesuits. After meeting her father, he wrote a letter on their behalf but did nothing more. Elena de la Cuadra was never seen again, and the whereabouts of the baby she was carrying arent known.
When he was forced to testify in a human rights trial in Buenos Aires in 2010, then-Cardinal Bergoglio said he hadnt become aware that babies were being taken from prisoners until the late 1990s. And he gave his testimony in private rather than in court, invoking a privilege that men of the cloth have.
This is the humility of Bergoglio? De la Cuadra asks, the bitter sarcasm evident in her voice.
Four months after Bergoglio became the first pope from the New World, questions largely have faded from the news about what role he played during Argentinas brutal dirty war, when thousands of leftists were rounded up by the military dictatorship and then disappeared, many thrown into the sea from Argentine military aircraft.
Instead, coverage of the pope has focused on initial efforts hes made to rein in the Vatican bureaucracy, clean up the corrupt Vatican Bank and instill more accountability for child sexual abuse. Hes made many symbolic gestures, most noticeably his decisions to live in the Vaticans Casa Santa Marta guesthouse rather than the more luxurious papal apartment and to be driven in a Ford Focus rather than the BMW that Pope Benedict XVI used to get around.
He unblocked the canonization process for Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated in 1980 after criticizing the countrys military for human rights abuses, and hes won praise from Brazilians Jose Oscar Beozzo and Leonardo Boff, two proponents of liberation theology, which says the churchs role must be fighting for the poor. Boff told the Brazilian newspaper Valor Economico that Pope Francis has basic liberation theology intuitions. While the pope is in Brazil, his plans include a visit to a slum and a prison.
Yet the praise isnt echoed among many in his homeland, who say the pope has yet to come clean on what the church knows about the dirty war, when 10,000 to 30,000 people disappeared during the 1976-1983 reign of the military.
In April, Estela de Carlotto, the president of a group known as the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who are searching for grandchildren who they think were born while their disappeared children were in military custody, delivered a letter to the pope in which she asked him to take the necessary measures to help us in the search of almost 400 grandchildren who today still have not recovered their true identity.