The Guardian reports: 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 hierarachy 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.
The main charge against Bergoglio involves the kidnapping of two Jesuit priests, Orland Yorio and Francisco Jalics, who were taken by Navy officers in May 1976 and held under inhumane conditions for the missionary work they conducted in the country’s slums, a politically risky activity at the time.
His chief accuser is journalist Horacio Verbitsky, the author of a book on the church called “El Silencio” (“The Silence”), which claims that Bergoglio withdrew his order’s protection from the two priests, effectively giving the military a green light for their abduction.
The claims are based on conversations with Jalics, who was released after his ordeal and later moved to a German monastery.
Bergoglio has called the allegations “slander” and holds that, on the contrary, he moved behind the scenes to save the lives of the two priests and others that he secretly hid from the death squads. In one case, he claims he even gave his identity papers to one dissident who looked like him so that he could flee the country.
For some, that makes him a hero. Other are sceptical. Eduardo de la Serna, co-ordinator of a left-wing group of priests who focus on the plight of the poor, told Radio del Plate that: “Bergoglio is a man of power and he knows how position himself among powerful people. I still have many doubts about his role regarding the Jesuits who went missing under the dictatorship.”
Many in the church are keen to move on from that dark period in the history of Argentina and the church. They say the new pope helped to heal the wounds of the dirty war and to restore the credibility of the Catholic hierarchy.