What was the role of Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Argentina’s “Dirty War” of the 1970s? The Guardian reports that the new pope “has not escaped personal controversy or scrutiny:”
Eight years ago the ghosts of Argentina’s dirty war – during which 30,000 suspected leftists were kidnapped and killed – returned to haunt him when he was accused of complicity in the kidnapping in 1976 of two liberal Jesuit priests.
According to El Silencio (Silence) a 2005 book written by the Argentinian journalist Horacio Verbitsky, Bergoglio withdrew his order’s protection of the two men after they refused to stop visiting the slums, which ultimately paved the way for their capture. Verbitsky’s book is based on statements by Orlando Yorio, one of the kidnapped Jesuits, before he died of natural causes in 2000. Both of the abducted clergymen survived five months of imprisonment. The book also claims that senior Buenos Aires clerics were implicated in an attempt by the navy to hide political prisoners from human rights inspectors.
Bergoglio has denied all the allegations and insisted that he helped many dissidents during the dictatorship. But his denials have failed to satisfy many in a country still struggling to come to terms with the atrocities committed in its recent past. “History condemns him,” Fortunato Mallimacci, the former dean of social sciences at the Universidad de Buenos Aires, once said. “It shows him to be opposed to all innovation in the church and above all, during the dictatorship, it shows he was very cosy with the military.”
Last year, Argentina’s bishops apologised for the church’s failure to properly protect people during the dictatorship. Those who know him, however, believe he is a sober and caring man who could just be the pope to bring some much-needed equilibrium to a troubled Vatican.
“His character is in every way that of a moderate; he is absolutely capable of undertaking the necessary renovation without any leaps into the unknown,” said Francesca Ambrogetti, one of his biographers. “He would be a balancing force. He shares the view that the church should have a missionary role, that gets out to meet people, that is active … a church that does not so much regulate the faith as promote and facilitate it.”
Read full story here. McClatchy Newspapers reports that “more recently, Bergoglio has been known for his confrontations with Argentina’s last two presidents, the husband and wife team of Nestor and Cristina Kirchner:”
“He was always very kind to the poor and the drug addicts, I hope he can keep those qualities in the Vatican,” said Roberto D’Abbraccio Varela, 63, a Buenos Aires security guard and Roman Catholic. “There are some doubts with him about what he did during the military dictatorship but you can never know the truth and since he was never judged we have to presume he’s innocent.”
Nestor Kirchner, who died in 2010, famously accused then-Cardinal Bergoglio of being “the true leader of the opposition.” During Argentina’s financial meltdown in 2001 and 2002, Bergoglio was a constant voice for the poor. He later famously lamented the rising poverty in Buenos Aires, noting that residents there “take better care of a dog than a brother.”
Bergoglio also was cool to Kirchner’s efforts to annul amnesty laws that protected those accused of crimes during the Dirty War. Among the first people to be tried after the laws were abolished was a Catholic police chaplain. Christian von Wernich was convicted and sentenced in 2007 by a federal court for participating in a series of crimes it said were “akin to genocide.” At the time of the trial, Bergoglio headed Argentina’s Conference of Bishops.
A common theme during the trial was the church’s inaction. One witness during the trial, the Rev. Ruben Capitanio, told the courtroom, “I say this with pain. Until the church recognizes its errors, we will be an unfaithful church.”
Read more here.
The New York Times has more on its IHT-Rendevouz blog:
Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, a human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was among those who leapt to the defense of the new pope.
He told the BBC his fellow Argentine had no links to the military dictatorship. “There were bishops who were complicit, but not Bergoglio,” he said in an interview.
“I personally know many bishops who called on the military junta to free prisoners and priests and whose pleas were rejected.”
Although some clerics actively helped the military by attending secret detention centers at which suspects were tortured, the main charge against the church is that it was guilty of the sin of omission by failing to do enough to help those in need.
And more here from The New Republic.