Allegations Tie Pope Francis to Argentina's ‘Dirty War’ Past

The election of Argentinian Jesuit Jorge Bergoglio as the new Catholic Pope has raised questions about the former cardinal's alleged involvement with Argentina's 1976-1983 military dictatorship, including accusations that he had a hand in the kidnapping of two liberal priests.

The allegations dogging Bergoglio, the first Argentinian and first Latin American to be chosen as pope, are not new, but come at a critical time for the Catholic Church as it struggles to improve its image worldwide.

Back in January 2011, Hugh O'Shaughnessy wrote a column for The Guardian in which he refers to the “sins of the Argentinian church” during the country's ‘Dirty War‘:

[…] It has been clear for years that the upper reaches of the Argentinian church contained many “lost sheep in the wilderness”, men who had communed and supported the unspeakably brutal western-supported military dictatorship that seized power in that country in 1976 and battened on it for years. Not only did the generals slaughter thousands unjustly, often dropping them out of aeroplanes over the River Plate and selling off their orphan children to the highest bidder, they also murdered at least two bishops and many priests. Yet even the execution of other men of the cloth did nothing to shake the support of senior clerics, including representatives of the Holy See, for the criminality of their leader General Jorge Rafael Videla and his minions.

Hayes Brown in Think Progress elaborated on the church's alleged involvement with the regime:

Years later, one priest told a panel of judges that the church at the time was “scandalously close to the dictatorship” in turning a blind eye, “to such an extent that I would say it was of a sinful degree.” Former Argentine dictator Jorge Videla claimed in an interview years removed from power that the Church was definitely “consulted” throughout the crackdown. That included offering their good offices and discouraging families from searching for relatives who had “disappeared.”

In an article for Global Post, published on March 13, 2013, John Otis explained one of the accusations directed at Bergoglio:

Image from Wikimedia Commons, by, under Creative Commons license  (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Image from Wikimedia Commons, by, under Creative Commons license (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In fact, an Argentine lawyer in 2005 filed a complaint charging Bergoglio with involvement in the 1976 kidnapping of two liberal Jesuit priests, an episode recounted in the book El Silencio, or The Silence, by Argentine investigative journalist Horacio Verbitsky.

Bergoglio has long denied any involvement. And after he was appointed archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998, he tried to make amends. He insisted that Catholic officials in Argentina wear garments symbolizing penance for sins committed by clergy during the dictatorship.

The Los Angeles Times covered the complaint against Bergoglio back in 2005.

Elizabeth Kate Switaj put together a Storify post entitled “Pope Francis and Argentina's Military Dictatorship”. She quotes blogger Flavia Dzodan (@redlightvoices), who tweeted extensively about the issue on March 13, 2013. In one tweet, Dzodan asked:

@redlightvoices: I speak of the Pope with “hate”? how about the lost lives of 30,000 disappeared, tortured, killed? Those did not deserve better?

Elizabeth also highlighted a tweet by Argentinian journalist and writer Ariel Silvera (@ariel_silvera):

@ariel_silvera: Seriously guys, ‘if he did in fact do it’, he was part of the hierarchy during the dictatorship. They are *ALL* guilty and I am not about…

@ariel_silvera: …to teach a goddamn class of Basic Argentinian History 101. I'm sorry the links aren't in your preferred language. #sorrynotsorry

Canadian writer I. Giraud (@BlueShoes55), who Elizabeth quoted in her post, pointed out on Twitter that not everyone has been celebrating:

@BlueShoes55: Several Latin American friends not rejoicing: Pope Francis apparently conservative Jesuit; did not speak out against Argentina dictatorship.

Asteris Masouras also put together a Storify post with similar reactions.

Argentinian investigative journalist Horacio Verbitsky has covered the Catholic Church's involvement in Argentina's dictatorship for years. The Twitter account under his name (@VerbitskyH) [es] has shared numerous articles published in newspaper Página12 on Bergoglio's involvement with the dictatorship, including an article [es] with five testimonies “confirming the role” played by now Pope Francis during those years.

As pointed out earlier, Bergoglio has denied [es] these accusations. Journalist Sandra Crucianelli (@spcrucianelli) [es] tweeted:

@spcrucianelli: En el libro “El jesuita”, #Bergoglio negó haber sido cómplice del secuestro de dos curas de su entorno. …

@spcrucianelli: In the book “The Jesuit”, #Bergoglio denied being complicit in the kidnapping of two priests close to him. …

To which Twitter user Grachy (@Grachy24) [es] responded:

@Grachy24: @spcrucianelli y que esperabas que diga SI YO TUVE QUE VER!!! mmmmmmmm

@Grachy24: @spcrucianelli and what were you expecting, that he say YES I WAS INVOLVED!!! hmmmmm

Nevertheless, many Argentinians have come to his defense.

Mario Pergolini (@PergoliniOK) [es] refers to the current government’s relationship with Bergoglio and writes:

@PergoliniOK: Es impresionante como están tratando de difamar a Bergoglio en las redes sociales. Evidentemente, para los k ha sido un golpe durísimo!

@PergoliniOK: It's amazing how they are trying to defame Bergoglio in social networks. Evidently, for the Kirchner [supporters] this [Bergoglio's election as Pope] has been a hard blow!

And Carlos Burgueño (@cburgueno) [es] warns:

@cburgueno: Ojo con bucear mucho sobre lo que hizo Bergoglio en la dictadura, no vaya a ser que haya salvado a muchos más que todos ustedes juntos.

@cburgueno: Be careful digging up too much about what Bergoglio did during the dictatorship, he might have saved more people than all of you combined.

Meanwhile, Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel told BBC Mundo [es] that Bergoglio had no ties to the dictatorship: “Bergoglio is questioned because they say he did not do enough to get two priests out of jail, while he was the superior of the Congregation of the Jesuits, but I know personally that many bishops called on the military junta to release prisoners and priests, and their wishes were not granted. They were told they would be released, and then it didn't happen.”

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