Agencies, Buenos Aires Argentina’s pope, Jorge Bergoglio, is a fearless critic of the powerful and a bold advocate of the poor, but some say he let down his country by staying silent during a “dirty war” dictatorship.
Links between some high-ranking Roman Catholic clergymen and the military regime that kidnapped and killed up to 30,000 leftists between 1976 and 1983 tarnished the Church’s reputation in Argentina and the wounds have yet to heal. Critics of Bergoglio, the Jesuit former archbishop of Buenos Aires, say he failed to protect priests who challenged the dictatorship, and that he has said too little about the complicity of the Church during military rule. That is reason enough for some human rights activists to question the moral credentials of Pope Francis, or Francisco as he will be known in the Spanish-speaking world.
“He has never said anything about the genocidal priests … We’ve really never heard him say anything,” said Taty Almeida, one of the leaders of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who marched for years before the presidential palace to demand information on their missing children. Bergoglio’s harshest critics go much further. “He turned priests in during the dictatorship,” said Horacio Verbitsky, a journalist and author close to President Cristina Fernandez, with whom Bergoglio has a prickly relationship. According to Verbitsky’s book “The Silence,” Bergoglio withdrew his order’s protection of two Jesuit priests after they refused to quit visiting the slums, paving the way for their capture. “I used to have the same opinion of him that most people have, of a humble, intelligent man dedicated to the poor … but then I discovered everything that is contained in my books, in my research,” he added.
Verbitsky’s accusations, based on the testimony of one of the two Jesuits who were kidnapped, are controversial, however. Bergoglio, who led the Jesuit order in Argentina at the time, gave evidence at a major human rights trial that he asked junta leaders Jorge Rafael Videla and Emilio Massera to free the two priests, who were kidnapped and held for five months. And defenders of the new pope say he helped many dissidents flee.
“What Bergoglio tried to do was help where he could,” said Adolfo Perez Esquivel, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for defending human rights during the dictatorship “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,” Perez Esquivel told Reuters. “Bergoglio never turned anyone in, neither was he an accomplice of the dictatorship.”