Since Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J., became Pope Francis earlier this week, accusations have been flying about how and whether he collaborated with the military junta that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983. The Guardian and the Associated Press provide overviews of the accusations.
I’m no expert on Argentine history, but a few factors seem to weigh in the pope’s favor. From another A.P. story , one prominent accusation against Bergoglio is undermined by facts that emerged just a few years ago:
One [human rights case] examined the torture of two of [Bergoglio’s] Jesuit priests Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics who were kidnapped in 1976 from the slums where they advocated liberation theology, which is the belief that Jesus Christ’s teachings justify fights against social injustices.
Yorio accused Bergoglio of effectively handing them over to the death squads by declining to tell the regime that he endorsed their work. Jalics refused to discuss it after moving into seclusion in a German monastery.
Both men were freed after Bergoglio took extraordinary, behind-the-scenes action to save them, including persuading dictator Jorge Videla’s family priest to call in sick so that Bergoglio could say Mass in the junta leader’s home, where he privately appealed for mercy. His intervention likely saved their lives, but Bergoglio never shared the details until [Sergio] Rubin interviewed him for the 2010 biography.
Bergoglio told Rubin that he regularly hid people on church property during the dictatorship, and once gave his identity papers to a man with similar features, enabling him to escape across the border.
Second, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Argentine activist Adolfo Perez Esquivel—-who, as an active opponent of the dictatorship, would have little reason to defend someone who aided it—-has told multiple news outlets that Bergoglio ” had no ties ” with the dictatorship. In an interview with Reuters, he said :
“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.”
Third, a 2011 Guardian column by Hugh O’Shaughnessy that accused Bergoglio and the Church in Argentina of collaborating with the dictatorship (and began circulating in the wake of Bergoglio’s election) has been revised this week to delete the most damning accusation it contained. The attack on Bergoglio was so baseless that the Guardian had to backtrack completely with this correction at the end of the column (emphasis mine):
This article was amended on 14 March 2013. The original article, published in 2011, wrongly suggested that Argentinian journalist Horacio Verbitsky claimed that Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio connived with the Argentinian navy to hide political prisoners on an island called El Silencio during an inspection by human rights monitors. Although Verbitsky makes other allegations about Bergoglio’s complicity in human rights abuses, he does not make this claim . The original article also wrongly described El Silencio as Bergoglio’s “holiday home”. This has been corrected.
The Guardian s credulity is mirrored in the online circulation of incorrectly captioned photos that claim to show Bergoglio giving Communion to dictator Jorge Videla, when in fact the priest in the photo is someone else.
It would seem, then, that we should take vitriolic accusations of the pope’s alleged collaboration with the regime with a grain of salt. Perhaps he and the Church deserve criticism for their actions during the dictatorship, but as the Guardian reversal and the deceptive photos show, some of the published denunciations are likely to prove false.