• John Thavis

Vatican responds to 'dirty war' accusations on new pope

Pope Francis’ pontificate hit its first roadbump with allegations that the future pope was complicit with Argentinia’s military regime and its “dirty war” more than 30 years ago.

The Vatican reacted with unusual vehemence in rejecting those claims, citing statements from human rights activists and fellow Jesuits.

“The accusations refer to the time before Jorge Mario Bergoglio became bishop [of Buenos Aires], when he was Provincial Superior of the Jesuits in Argentina and accuse him of not having protected two priests who were kidnapped,” the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, told reporters Friday.

“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,” he said.

“Instead, there have been many declarations demonstrating how much Bergoglio did to protect many persons at the time of the military dictatorship. Bergoglio’s role, once he became bishop, in promoting a request for forgiveness of the Church in Argentina for not having done enough at the time of the dictatorship is also well-known,” Father Lombardi said.

In an inquest into those years, Cardinal Bergoglio testified in 2010 that he had asked for the release of two Jesuits kidnapped by the military and held for several months. He said he had helped hide others from the military or escape the country.

One of those two Jesuits told reporters in Germany that he had long ago reconciled with Bergoglio.

For the Vatican, this was old news. The same accusations surfaced in 2005, when Cardinal Bergoglio’s name circulated as a potential candidate in the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI.

Father Lombardi went on to say that the repetition of these allegations was motivated by anticlericalism.

“The accusations pertain to a use of historical-sociological analysis of the dictatorship period made years ago by anticlerical elements to attack the Church. They must be firmly rejected,” he said.

That seemed a bit of an odd note, and unnecessary. Why not simply stick to the facts instead of casting this an ideological battle?

More than 20,000 political opponents of the military regime in Argentina “disappeared” and were believed to have been killed by the regime.

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