The newly-elected Pope Francis has celebrated his first Sunday prayer to much acclaim and impressed many with his exhorting the Church to focus on the poor and his reportedly “down to earth” habits (as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he reportedly took the bus). But questions remain about the new pope’s alleged complicity in the disappearance and torture of two Jesuits, at a time when 30,000 people were killed or went missing during Argentina’s Dirty War and rule by the military junta after General Jorge Videla seized power in 1976.
A judge who participated in an inquiry about clandestine prisons in Argentina has said that Fr. Jorge Bergoglio, as the Pope was known until last week, did not hand over Frs. Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics, the two Jesuits. But a 1977 report by Fr. Yorio to Jesuit authorities and a 1994 book by Fr. Jalics suggest that much remains unclear. the New York Times details:
Father Yorio wrote that Francis, who was then the top Jesuit in Argentina, told them he supported their work even as he sought to undermine it, making negative reports about them to local bishops and claiming they were in the slum without his permission.
“He did nothing to defend us, and we began to question his honesty,” wrote Father Yorio, who died in 2000. Finally, without telling the two priests, Father Yorio wrote, Francis expelled them from the Jesuit order.
Three days later, hundreds of armed men descended on the slum and seized the two priests. Father Yorio was interrogated and accused of being a guerrilla. The priests were kept for five months, chained hand and foot and blindfolded, fearing they would be killed.
Finally, they were dropped off in a drugged state on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.
Fr. Yorio’s sister, Graciela Yorio, has said that he and Fr. Jalics were left “totally unprotected” by Bergoglio. His brother, Orlando Yorio, describes the new pontiff as “two-faced,” saying that “if the military killed someone, then Bergoglio had nothing to do with it, but if someone was saved, he was the one who saved them.”
Indeed, Pope Francis’ version of the events portrays himself as hiding the persecuted at a Jesuit school and helping a young man, who he says resembled him, to flee from Argentina with his identity documents and disguised as a priest. The new pope has previously testified in court about his possible role and never been charged with a crime. In fact, he says that he interceded on behalf of Fr. Yorio and Fr. Jalics.
Account By Fr. Jalics, Kidnapped and Tortured in 1976
A statement by Fr. Jalics posted last week on the website of the Jesuits in Germany (where Jalics now lives) describes things a bit differently. He had lived in Argentina for 17 years when, in 1974, “by an inner wish to live the gospel and to draw attention to the terrible poverty, and with the permission of Archbishop Aramburu and the then-Provincial Fr. Jorge Mario Bergoglio,” he and another priest moved into a slum in Buenos Aires. After one of their lay coworkers joined the guerillas, the two Jesuits — who had themselves, Fr. Jalics emphasizes, had no contact with them or the junta — were arrested and interrogated for five days.
The officer assured the two Jesuits they were not guilty and would be returned to their district. But, Fr. Jalics writes, they were “inexplicably held in custody, blindfolded and bound, for five months.”
In his statement, Fr. Jalics writes that he “cannot comment on the role of Fr. Bergoglio in these events.” Years after they had occurred, when Bergoglio had become the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jalics says that “we together celebrated a public mass and solemnly embraced.” In closing, he says he is “reconciled to the events and view them from my side as concluded.”
Documents Suggest Pope Francis Betrayed Jesuits
In the time of Argentina’s military dictatorship, any priests who focused on poor districts were suspected of collaborating with Marxists, says the Guardian. An Argentinan newspaper, Pagina 12, has republished documents that suggest that then Fr. Bergoglio was indeed in “contact with the military authorities about the insubordination of two of his priests and rumors that they had contact with leftwing guerrilla groups.” A 1979 foreign ministry memo indeed indicates that Fr. Bergoglio suspected the two Jesuits of contact with the guerillas.
These revelations about Pope Francis’s alleged role in the disappearance of two Jesuits cast a shadow over the start of his papacy. As Federico Finchelstein, an Argentine historian at the New School for Social Research, says in the New York Times, the new pope’s and the church’s silence during and after military rule was “instrumental in enabling the mass atrocities committed by the junta.” Both the “endorsement and either strategic or willful indifference” actually fostered what Finchelstein says were “the proper conditions for the state killings” of thousands.
The “inaction” of the Church to stand up to the regime is all the more notable as clergy in other Latin American countries, including Chile and Brazil (here many fewer people were killed) resisted dictatorships, according to the New York Times.
The Vatican has condemned any critics of Pope Francis, proclaiming that the old allegations are a “defamatory campaign” against him. Regardless, the collusion of the Catholic church with the generals in Argentina cannot be forgotten.
As head of the Jesuits in that country during the dictatorship, then-Fr. Bergoglio was the top authority for his order. He may not have engaged directly in any unholy alliances with the military, but under its rule, atrocities happened including the stealing of babies from women who then disappeared and the dropping of two French nuns, Alice Domon and Leonie Douquet, over the River Plate from an aircraft. As the Guardian‘s Hugh O’Shaughnessy writes,”the two women who had been working to improve the lives of farm labourers had been kidnapped a few days previously by the Videla dictatorship from a church and a chapel in town.”
In 2012, Videla was sentenced to 50 years in prison for participating in the scheme to steal babies from their parents who had been detained by the military regime.
Fr. Jorge Bergoglio is now the 266th Pope of the Catholic Church.
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