Feature

Argentina: Did the pope collude in the Dirty War?

Old allegations have resurfaced that Pope Francis was complicit with the right-wing military junta during 1976–83 Dirty War.

The international press is trying to crush Argentina’s joy over the election of the first Latin American pope, said Ana Barón in Clarín.News outlets across Europe and the U.S. have dredged up old allegations that Pope Francis was complicit with the right-wing military junta that murdered tens of thousands of leftists during the 1976–83 Dirty War. The allegations, based entirely on a 2005 book by Argentine reporter Horacio Verbitsky, hold that Francis, then Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio, told two Jesuit priests to stop spreading the leftist ideology of liberation theology in the slums. When they refused, the story goes, he withdrew the church’s protection so that the junta was free to kidnap them.The day after the new pope was chosen, The New York Times gave the story front-page treatment, and The New Yorker published a “particularly harsh” take. Fortunately, these publications were even-handed enough to add that there was no hard evidence against the pope. And most accounts pointed out that Argentine Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, who was jailed and tortured by the dictatorship, has defended him. “There were bishops who were accomplices of the Argentine dictatorship,” he said, “but not Bergoglio.” 

There is evidence he was, said Horacio Verbitsky in Pagina 12. The priests themselves, Orlando Yorio and Franz Jalics, firmly believe that Bergoglio sold them out. Jalics now refuses to discuss the matter, but years ago he told friends that Bergoglio had effectively banished them from the church. Yorio, who is now deceased, told me directly that he believed Bergoglio was fully complicit. Bergoglio insists that he met with junta leaders to win the priests’ freedom, and they were freed after five months of torture. But I found a note in the Foreign Ministry archives in which an officer says Bergoglio had identified the two priests as having links with subversive elements. It looks like he was “double-dealing: doing one thing in private and another in public.”

That’s not proof, said Diario Hoy in an editorial. No less a personage than Julio Strassera, the prosecutor who presided over the historic 1985 trial of the junta members, has exonerated the pope. Strassera called the revival of these old, discredited allegations “a dirty trick” by supporters of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her late husband and predecessor, Néstor Kirchner. “This is despicable, absolutely false,” he said. The Kirchners couldn’t stand Bergoglio because he was so vocal in his criticism of government policies promoting sex education, contraception, and gay marriage. Kirchner famously called him “the true leader of the opposition,” and Fernández has an only slightly less prickly relationship with him.

We can see Pope Francis’s appointment as “divine punishment” for the Fernández government, which has never been a friend of the church, said Pablo Sirvén in La Nación. Now the Argentine president, “who famously refused to walk a few meters to attend Bergoglio’s annual Te Deum church address while he was cardinal, has had to travel 7,000 miles to attend his coronation as head of Christendom.” Let this be a lesson in humility for us all. 

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