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article imageVatican responds to 'Dirty War' allegations against Pope Francis

By JohnThomas Didymus     Mar 16, 2013 in World
The Vatican on Friday defended Pope Francis against allegations that he failed to oppose and even collaborated with Argentina's military junta against left-wing activists during the so-called "Dirty War" of the country's era of military dictatorship.
Digital Journal reports that one of the major allegations against Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was that he did not do enough to protect two activist priests from the military dictatorship that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983.
According to The Washington Post, Vatican spokesman Reverend Federico Lombardi reacted to media reports implicating the former Cardinal Bergoglio who was Jesuit provincial superior and later Archbishop of Buenos Aires. He said the accusations against Bergoglio were "stale" and part of the efforts of "anti-clerical left-wing elements to attack the church [that] must be decisively rejected."
Although, the news of Cardinal Bergoglio's election as Pope Francis was well received with many praising his modesty and commitment to uplifting the poor, questions were raised in the media about his alleged role in the era of military dictatorship during which thousands of citizens "disappeared."
The allegations, according to the Catholic News Service, stem mostly from the work of an Argentine journalist who published a book about the country's "Dirty War" era titled "El Silencio."
In his book, the investigative journalist Horacio Verbitsky alleged that Bergoglio, then head of the Society of Jesus in Argentina, failed in his duty to protect two activist priests Francisco Jalics and Orlando Yorio. He had reportedly warned the two priests to stop their social activist work among the poor in the slums of Buenos Aires to prevent their arrest, but when the two refused he withdrew protection from them.
Verbitsky reportedly accused Bergoglio, saying: "He turned priests in during the dictatorship."
However, Cardinal Bergoglio defended himself against the allegations. He told his biographer Sergio Rubin: "I warned them to be very careful. They were too exposed to the paranoia of the witch hunt. Because they stayed in the barrio, Yorio and Jalics were kidnapped."
Both priests were kidnapped in 1976 and held in the notorious Navy Mechanics School prison where they were tortured. After five months, they were drugged, blindfolded and dumped in a field.
One of the priests Orlando Yorio, who has since died, accused Bergoglio of delivering them to the junta by withdrawing protection from them. But according to AP, the other priest Francisco Jalics, now in his eighties, living in a monastery in Germany, said recently: "It was only years later that we had the opportunity to talk with Fr Bergoglio... to discuss the events. Following that, we celebrated Mass publicly together and hugged solemnly. I am reconciled to the events and consider the matter to be closed." The reconciliation, according to Jalics, happened more than a decade ago.
According to the Catholic News Service, in 2010, Judges investigating the incident questioned Cardinal Bergoglio only as a witness and not as a defendant.
Bergoglio's official biographer, Sergio Rubin, has also defended him, saying that as the Jesuit leader he "took extraordinary, behind-the-scenes action to save" the priests.
A second major accusation against Bergoglio was that during the "Dirty War" he neglected to follow up a request to help find the baby of a pregnant woman kidnapped and killed in 1977. The woman was five months pregnant at the time she was kidnapped and it was believed that the baby was illegally adopted after the mother had been killed.
Although Bergoglio testified before judges in 2010 that he had known nothing about the theft of a baby, the woman's relatives disputed the claim.
The Wall Street Journal reports that in its reaction to the allegations against Pope Francis, the Vatican said that the "campaign against Cardinal Bergoglio is well known and goes back to many years."
Vatican spokesman Father Lombardi said that the allegations have no merit. According to The Catholic News Service, Lombardi said: “This was never a concrete or credible accusation in his regard. He was questioned by an Argentinian court as someone aware of the situation but never as a defendant. He has, in documented form, denied any accusations.”
The Washington Post reports the Vatican spokesman, said: "The accusations pertain to a use of historical-sociological analysis of the dictatorship period made years ago by anti-clerical elements to attack the Church. They must be firmly rejected."
However, even if there isn't any evidence that he collaborated with the military junta, the question remains whether he took sufficiently decisive steps to protect his flock and subordinates against kidnappings, tortures and killings.
The WSJ notes, for instance, that while the Argentine peace laureate Perez Esquivel, in a column in his official website absolved Bergoglio of collaboration with the military regime, saying he did not consider that he was "an accomplice" of the dictatorship, he said he wished Bergoglio had done more to confront the regime.
According to the BBC, Esquivel said that Bergoglio "tried to... help where he could... It's true that he didn't do what very few bishops did in terms of defending the human rights cause, but it's not right to accuse him of being an accomplice... Bergoglio never turned anyone in, neither was he an accomplice of the dictatorship."
The Washington Post notes also that it remains widely acknowledged that during the era of military terror in Argentina, Bergoglio never openly confronted the junta over its abuses and neither is it known that he used private channels to engage the junta. The Washington Post reports, however, that he told his biographer that he said Mass for the nation's dictator Jorge Videla, as a way of "advocating for mercy."
The failure of the entire church hierarchy in Argentina during the "Dirty War" has been officially acknowledged.
Jose Maria Poirier, director of the Buenos Aires Catholic magazine El Criterio, acknowledged that "the line that the church most often took was of silence... It was a dark time in the country's history."
The Catholic News Service reports that the Association of Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a women's group advocating for justice for their children who disappeared during the "Dirty War," said the silence helped the abuses to continue.
The president of the group Hebe de Bonafini, said: "We listed 150 priests who were assassinated by the dictatorship; the official church was silent and never made a claim for them."
Argentina's bishops collectively admitted in 1996 that they could have done more. In a statement the bishops said: "We deeply regret not having been able to further lighten the suffering produced by such a great tragedy. We stand in solidarity with all those who feel injured by what happened, and we sincerely lament that sons and daughters of the church were involved in violating human rights. At that time, the bishops thought they should combine firm denunciation of such violations with frequent appeals to government authorities. We must confess that, unfortunately, this approach came up against unyielding stances on the part of many government authorities who erected an almost impenetrable wall."
In 2007, a church priest Christian von Wernich received a life sentence after a court found him guilty of crimes against humanity and for collaborating with the junta in murders, torture and kidnapping. He was the first priest to be found guilty of crimes. He was given a life sentence.
After the verdict Cardinal Bergoglio issued a statement that said: "We believe that the findings of the court should serve to renew the efforts of all citizens on the path of reconciliation and call us to distance ourselves not just from impunity, but from hatred and bitterness."
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