The Vatican rejected as “old and totally unfounded” accusations that Pope Francis didn’t speak out enough against Argentina’s former military dictatorship and was complicit in the kidnapping and torture of two activist priests.
“There’s never been any credible accusation against him,” Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told a news briefing in Rome. The charges against Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who was elected pope two days ago, come from “anti-clerical, left-wing” groups and amount to “slander,” he said.
Lombardi spoke after one of the priests, Francisco Jalics, said today that he’d reconciled with Francis long after he and the other priest, Orlando Yorio, were abducted and tortured in 1976. The junta that ruled until 1983 killed as many as 10,000 people during the so-called Dirty War in a bid to stamp out a Marxist insurgency, a government commission said two decades ago. Rights groups say more than 30,000 people disappeared.
Yorio had accused Bergoglio of effectively delivering them to the junta after they refused his request to stop working in a Buenos Aires slum because it was too dangerous, according to a 2005 book by Horacio Verbitsky. Yorio died before publication of the “The Silence,” which explores the church’s alleged ties to the generals.
In his statement today, Jalics said a layman working with him and Yorio joined the guerrillas and was captured. Nine months later, “assuming that we were collaborating with the guerrillas, we were arrested” and “kept blindfolded and handcuffed” for five months. “I cannot comment on the role of Father Bergoglio during that period,” he said.
In the book, Bergoglio rejected the charges that he was complicit, telling the author in an interview that his meeting with two members of the ruling junta, Emilio Massera and Jorge Videla, was to seek the priests’ release.
Jalics said that years later he met and hugged Bergoglio, according to a statement today on the website of the Jesuits of Germany, where he now lives. “I’m reconciled to the events and consider the matter to be closed,” said Jalics, adding that the two Jesuits later publicly celebrated mass together.
Jalics’s statement didn’t give a date for the meeting. It took place in 2000, the Associated Press reported today, citing a spokesman for Germany’s Jesuits. The allegations date to the period when Bergoglio wasn’t yet a bishop and was leader of the Jesuits in Argentina.
“I wish Pope Francis God’s rich blessings,” Jalics said.
Lombardi pointed to a statement by Adolfo Perez Esquivel, who won the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize for efforts to expose the junta’s crimes. “I don’t think, as some people say, that Bergoglio was an accomplice of the dictatorship,” Esquivel said in a March 14 interview with Radio La Red in Buenos Aires. “There were some bishops who were accomplices, but Bergoglio -- no, we can’t accuse him of that.”
Bergoglio, who later became archbishop of Buenos Aires, claimed in a biographical book to have saved a young man during the dictatorship. The future pope said he dressed him as a priest and lent him his identity card to get him out of the country.
“I did what I could with the age I had and the few links I had,” he said in “The Jesuit,” a book of dialogues between the cardinal and authors Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambroguetti.