More Details Emerge About Pope Francis and Argentina’s Dirty War Past

With the announcement that Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the former archbishop of Buenos Aires, is now Pope Francis, very little is being reported in the U.S. mainstream about Bergoglio’s entire history. There is talk about how Bergoglio is the first Latin American pontiff and how he is humble and a champion of the poor. There is talk about how he represents the future of the Church, hailing from a region outside Europe. There is talk about Latin America pride and that he is also the first Jesuit pope. Yet there are only mentions of Bergoglio’s association with Argentina’s Dirty War of the late 1970s and early 1980s, and the consequences that the country continues to face even to this day.

A 2010 piece in Spanish called “El almirante y el cardenal” (The Admiral and the Cardinal) provides a detailed look into Bergoglio and his actions during perhaps one of Argentina’s most tragic periods. The focus of the piece, written by journalist Horacio Verbitsky, chronicles a trial of the late Admiral Emilio Massera, one of the dictatorship’s organizers of mass tortures and executions, and how Bergoglio did not have to testify in court, but instead how he talked the judges who visited his archdiocese’s office.

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According to Verbitsky, Bergoglio said that he had had a conversation with the journalist about events of the Dirty War. However, Verbitsky claims that Bergolgio was not accurate is his testimony to the judges. Here is a translation of what Verbitsky wrote:

[Bergoglio] acknowledged that in 1999 he spoke to me about the kidnapping of his former Jesuit subordinates, Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics. But he said he never heard of the “The Silence” island, in Tigre, part of the Buenos Aires Archbishop’s property, to which prisoners were transferred in 1979 from the ESMA [la Escuela de la Mecánica de la Aramda, the notorious detention center for political prisoners] so that the American Commission on Human Rights could not locate them. That’s not true, because in my interview with Bergolgio, he gave me accurate information that the probate records contained of the Curia’s former employees as a property owner. He gave me a note that is reproduced here.

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Verbitsky continues:

He also denied having met at the Colegio Máximo with the Bishop of Morón, Miguel Raspanti. This contradicts the testimony of Morón catechist Marina Rubino, who studied theology at the Máximo. One afternoon, when leaving a class, she came upon Raspanti. Marina knew that her teachers, Jalics and Yorio, and a third Jesuit who worked with her at Castela school, Luis Dourron, had asked to be part of the Morón diocese. She said the the three had an impeccable character, and that he should not hesitate to bring them in. Raspanti explained that the situation was more complicated. He could not get them in the diocese because of the “bad references Bergoglio gave him.”

Then there is this:

Bergoglio told the judges that when the priests were kidnapped, he had a close dialogue with Massera, whom he said he would visit in order to save the priests. The judges also asked him about his visit to the Foreign Ministry to ask for a special procedure for renewing the Jalics’ passport, once he was released. He replied that he had told the attending official that Jalics was arrested with Yorio, and that both were charged as guerrillas but they had “nothing to do with that.”

However, according to Verbitsky, others documents and testimony by Anselmo Orcoyen have Bergoglio saying that the priests were living in a small Jesuit community that was dissolved in February, 1976 and that they were detained at ESMA in May because they were suspected of having contact with guerilla groups.

The Associated Press ran a story today that also discusses Bergoglio’s past. (FYI: The AP calls him “José” instead of “Jorge.”)

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Pope Francis is known for his humility, his reluctance to talk about himself. The self-effacement, admirers say, is why he has hardly ever denied one of the harshest allegations against him: That he was among church leaders who actively supported Argentina’s murderous dictatorship.

It’s without dispute that Jose [sic] Mario Bergoglio, like most other Argentines, failed to openly confront the 1976-1983 military junta while it was kidnapping and killing thousands of people in a “dirty war” to eliminate leftist opponents.

But the new pope’s authorized biographer, Sergio Rubin, argues that this was a failure of the Roman Catholic Church in general, and that it’s unfair to label Bergoglio with the collective guilt that many Argentines of his generation still deal with.

“In some way many of us Argentines ended up being accomplices,” at a time when anyone who spoke out could be targeted, Rubin recalled in an interview with The Associated Press just before the papal conclave.

Some leading Argentine human rights activists agree that Bergoglio doesn’t deserve to be lumped together with other church figures who were closely aligned with the dictatorship.

“Perhaps he didn’t have the courage of other priests, but he never collaborated with the dictatorship,” Adolfo Perez Esquivel, who won the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize for documenting the junta’s atrocities, said Thursday. “Bergoglio was no accomplice of the dictatorship. He can’t be accused of that,” Perez Esquivel told Radio de la Red in Buenos Aires.

Other activists are angry over the positions Bergoglio, 76, has taken in recent years, as Argentina pursues investigations aimed at exposing those responsible for killing as many as 30,000 people, and finding traces of their victims. Some say he’s been more concerned about preserving the church’s image than providing evidence for Argentina’s many human rights trials.

“There’s hypocrisy here when it comes to the church’s conduct, and with Bergoglio in particular,” said Estela de la Cuadra, whose mother co-founded the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo activist group during the dictatorship to search for missing family members. “There are trials of all kinds now, and Bergoglio systematically refuses to support them.”

Bergoglio twice invoked his right under Argentine law to refuse to appear in open court in trials involving torture and murder inside the feared Navy Mechanics School and the theft of babies from detainees. When he eventually did testify in 2010, his answers were evasive, human rights attorney Myriam Bregman told the AP.

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