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HASBÚN AND PINOCHET: A BAD PRIEST AND A FALSE MESSIAH

General Pinochet's dictatorship provoked a serious split between the Catholic Church and the State. The effects of the initial persecution against a Church which was progressive and identified itself with the poor were terrible: four priests were murdered (Woodward, Alsina, Gallegos, Jarlan), one was arrested and subsequently disappeared (Llidó), dozens of monks and nuns were detained in torture centres. 106 priests and 32 nuns were forced to abandon the country during the first four months after the coup and many others were expelled in later years. The last of these were Dubois, Lancelot and Carouette. The policy of official violence, backed by the doctrine of National Security, continued during the following years with the destruction of churches, the bulldozing of church meeting places and armed attacks on gatherings. Both lay and pastoral members of he Church were persecuted and terrorised, with the intention of subduing the Church and legitimising the sad situation in which Chile found itself.[1]

Since 1964, the dictatorships of Latin America have openly manipulated the different religious groups in order to create their own ideological constructs and justify political aberration. Hence, in official statements the coup leaders are presented as the defenders of western Christian civilisation, in open conflict against atheism and materialism. Thus, an authoritarian political policy and messianism become synonymous. If one examines general Pinochet's statements, it is easy to find expressions such as "the chosen one", "the saviour", "the hand of God", "God gives me the right to fight", all of which show his desire to assign to himself, and by extension to the Armed Forces, a messianic function which, at a certain level, would fulfil the role of legitimising the dictatorship and its political project. The critical stance of a significant sector of the Church led the general to seek spiritual legitimisation from within some of the evangelical churches which, basing themselves on the belief of the "divinity of power", gave him unconditional support, at least until the point at which a group of evangelical churches sent an open letter to general Pinochet on 29-8-86 making him "responsible, together with the Armed Forces, in the eyes of God, for the blood which had been spilled".[2]

In this context, how do we interpret the unfortunate actions and statements of a representative of the Church such as the priest Raúl Hasbún? Let us examine a few examples:

Hasbún, who comes from a comfortable background, had established, even during the Allende government, a close political relationship with ideologues linked to the fascist group Patria y Libertad (Pablo Rodríguez, Rafael Otero and Jaime Guzmán, among others). During this period of anti-democratic agitation Hasbún appeared involved in some sinister events. In the early seventies, he was one of the directors of the TV channel of the Catholic University. In March 1973, a group of terrorists belonging to Patria y Libertad - including Michael Townley, the man who years later was going to assassinate Orlando Letelier in Washington in 1976 - carried out an operation designed to deactivate a device that interfered with the illegal transmission of TV Channel 5. This station had been set up by Hasbún to make more effective his fanatical campaign to depose Allende's government. These events led to the death of the worker José Tomás Henríquez, and the moral responsibility for this death was attributed to Raúl Hasbún.

Raúl Hasbún

During Pinochet's dictatorship, Hasbún devoted his best sermons to justifying the brutality of the regime. His contributions were the obligatory prelude to the speeches of the dictator on national television channels. Years later, in his odious speeches, he would demand that the military adopt a harder line against the opposition.

As a result of Pinochet's arrest in London, Hasbún has lost his Messiah, and has concentrated his efforts on prayers and homilies to ask God to secure the release of the tyrant, who he has publicly linked with Jesus Christ. His recent visit to London to baptise the general's granddaughter - she had already been baptised - demonstrates a devotion to the Pinochet family that is so blind that it reflects badly on the Church and is an offence to the victims of the dictatorship. Moreover, it has the effect of separating, dividing and alienating. His latest speech given in the Military Academy (August 1999) constitutes a clear call for division and a lack of respect for the Church hierarchy who are promoting exactly the opposite: justice, peace and reconciliation in Chilean society.

Hasbún is a character who identifies with the most conservative wing of the Church. Visceral in his anti-Marxism, he is an unconditional supporter of the doctrine of National Security, which the dictatorship used to overthrow the legal government and justify crimes. His stance is in blatant opposition to the position of the Church emerging from the Second Vatican Council, which continues to be the dominant tendency in Chile; and it is in opposition to that of the popular or liberationist church, which is also important in the country. Hasbún is the antithesis of the late Cardinal Silva Henríquez and of many other ecclesiastical figures whose ethically Christian work will be favourably judged by history.

Hasbún writes a column in the daily newspaper El Mercurio, is a commentator on the Universidad Católica's Channel 13 and a regular guest on Radio Agricultura. From this privileged position, provided by Chile's most reactionary communication media and the seminars of a university founded by Pinochet, this priest has expressed opinions as extreme as the following:

1. Baltazar Garzón, Judge of the Supreme Court of Spain, who is in charge of the case against Pinochet, is a "scoundrel."
2. Chile should respect and be grateful for the existence of the DINA and other intelligence and terror agencies - which were created by Pinochet and which kidnapped, tortured and killed with impunity for years.
3. Paul Schäfer is "innocent". A willing collaborator with the DINA, Schäfer was the leader of the one time Colonia Dignidad, a place where people were tortured and then never seen again. Today, Schäfer is the criminal justice system's most wanted man, accused of sexual abuse against children of that colony over many years.
4. Pinochet's suffering is equal to that of Jesus Christ.
5. Socialists are "intrinsically against the Fatherland" as well as being "parasites who profit by sucking the blood of others".

Raúl Hasbún never uttered a word of condemnation against the crimes of the dictatorship, neither did he criticise the death and suffering of victims whether secular or ecclesiastical. He is a politicised priest who disobeys the hierarchy of his own Church and refuses to adhere to the mission which his Church has set out in its "Pastoral Guides" (1986-1989). According to these Guides, the role of the Catholic Church is that of promoting national unity and reconciliation in order to return to a democracy in which the priesthood and the faithful join hands with the people.

On the contrary, this bad priest has dedicated himself to encouraging hatred and division among Chileans and he has underlined this in his latest regrettable statements. These have been the subject of public reprimands from the Archbishop of Santiago, Francisco Javier Errázuriz; from the Vicario of the Pastoral Obrera, Monsignor Baeza; from the Government of Chile; and from the group of parties which make up the political platform of the Government. In spite of the criticisms made by his own Archbishop and other bishops - such as Manuel Camilo Vial, Fernando Ariztía and Carlos Camus - Hasbún has used his air time on TV and Radio Agricultura to underline his views. Not only has he repeated the same statements but he has also insisted that they represent the true opinion of his church.

Father Hasbún is a negative element for the Church and for Chilean society, which requires not more hatred but reconciliation and peace. The Catholic Church, timid during the most decisive years, must now strengthen the spiritual guidance of its people and take on a role which is both more transparent and more in tune with the Christian ethic of the Holy Scriptures. Chile has no need for false evangelists who use the pulpit for personal and selfish ends in order to spread hatred. The broadcasting of these kind of outrageous views at such a sensitive moment of history is irresponsible and deserves more rigorous punishment. There are priests who have been removed from their positions for much lesser offences. The Catholic Church has resorted to excommunication when it has wished to condemn extremist views that are contrary to its doctrine. We have reached the point at which History demands that the Church take meaningful steps and effect a real reconciliation with those who suffer.

1. Jaime Escobar M. Persecución a la Iglesia en Chile (Martirologio 1973-1986). Santiago: Terranova Editores, 1986.
2. Artuto Chacón Herrera & Humberto Lagos Schuffeneger. Religión y proyecto político autoritario. Concepción: Ediciones Lar (Proyecto Evangélico de Estudios Socio-religiosos), 1986.

 

Carmen J. Galarce
July 99

Carmen J. Galarce is Full Professor at Otterbein College (Ohio), USA. A graduate in Education at the University of Chile, Valparaiso, she pursued postgraduate studies in Literature and Linguistics, eventually becoming a PhD at Ohio State University. In 1993 Dr Galarce published her book La Novela Chilena del Exilio.

 

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