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Dirty Wars: Pope Francis' Ties to Argentina's Rightwing Junta

- Common Dreams staff

The Catholic Church was complicit in Argentina's Dirty War, between 1976 and 1983, in which up to 30,000 people were 'disappeared' by the rightwing military junta.

Democracy Now! reports this morning:

While praised for his work with the poor, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio — now Pope Francis — has long been dogged by accusations of his role during Argentina’s military dictatorship. We speak to Horacio Verbitsky, a leading Argentine journalist who exposed Francis’ connection to the abduction of two Jesuit priests. Verbitsky is an investigative journalist for the newspaper Página/12, or Page/12, and head of the Center for Legal and Social Studies, an Argentine human rights organization.

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Doug Saunders reporting in Canada's Globe & Mail:

[...] Much of the attention centers around two Jesuit priests, Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics, who were kidnapped by government forces on May 23, 1976, imprisoned for five months at clandestine detention center, tortured, and later found lying drugged and semi-naked in a field.

Days before their disappearance, according memoirs and statements made later by the priests, they had been dismissed from the Jesuit order by Father Bergoglio for having ministered to residents of the slums, which were considered hotbeds of Marxist agitation. Kicking the priests out of the order is seen by many Argentines as a move that, in the polarized climate of the Junta, may have served as a clear signal to the military dictatorship that they were to be targeted.

The Spanish newspaper El Pais quotes from a 1995 memoir by Father Jalics, who now lives in Germany, in which he accuses Father Bergoglio of betraying them.

“Many people who held far-right political beliefs frowned on our presence in the slums,” the priest writes. “They thought we were living there in support of the guerrillas, and set out to denounce us as terrorists. We knew which way the wind was blowing, and who was responsible for these slanders. So I went to [Father Bergoglio] and explained that they were playing with our lives. He promised that the military would be told that we were not terrorists. But from subsequent statements by an officer and 30 documents that we were able to access later, we saw without doubt that [Father Bergoglio] had not kept his promise but, on the contrary, had filed a false complaint with the military.” [...]

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Pope Francis (left) with Jorge Videla, head of the rightwing fascist Argentine Junta, responsible for the death, disappearance and torture of tens of thousands of Argentines in its 'Dirty War'And Uki Goni and Jonathan Watts reporting in The Guardian today:

Pope Francis: Questions Remain Over His Role During Argentina's Dictatorship

Despite the joyful celebrations outside the Municipal Cathedral in Buenos Aires yesterday, the news of Latin America's first pope was clouded by lingering concerns about the role of the church – and its new head – during Argentina's brutal military dictatorship.

The Catholic church and Pope Francis have been accused of a complicit silence and worse during the "dirty war" of murders and abductions carried out by the junta that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983.

The evidence is sketchy and contested. Documents have been destroyed and many of those who were victims or perpetrators have died in the years that followed. The moral argument is clear, but the reality of life at that time put many people in a grey position. It was dangerous at that time to speak out and risk being labelled a subversive. But many, including priests and bishops, did so and subsequently disappeared. Those who stayed silent have subsequently had to live with their consciences — and sometimes the risk of a trial.

Its behavior during that dark period in Argentine history was so unsaintly that in 2000 the Argentine Catholic church itself made a public apology for its failure to take a stand against the generals. "We want to confess before God everything we have done badly," Argentina's Episcopal Conference said at that time.

In February, a court noted during the sentencing of three former military men to life imprisonment for the killings of two priests that the church hierarchy had "closed its eyes" to the killing of progressive priests.

As head of the Jesuit order from 1973 to 1979, Jorge Bergoglio – as the new pope was known until yesterday – was a member of the hierarchy during the period when the wider Catholic church backed the military government and called for their followers to be patriotic.

Bergoglio twice refused to testify in court about his role as head of the Jesuit order. When he eventually appeared in front of a judge in 2010, he was accused by lawyers of being evasive. [...]

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