Is the new pope stained by Argentina’s bloody past?

Christopher Dickey reports: The so-called “Dirty War” in Argentina ended 30 years ago. But the trials of the Argentine military men accused of monstrous crimes during that time go on. On Thursday, a woman who had been tortured and raped in one of their concentration camps looked at the 44 men in the dock and named the sadists she remembered—the one who liked to burn breasts with cigarettes; the one who tied her to a cot—pointing her finger as she spoke. And as the spectators in the court looked at the accused, they saw every one of the 44 was wearing a curious badge: white and yellow ribbons, the colors of the Vatican, to honor the Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio who had been named Pope Francis I the night before.

They weren’t doing the new pontiff any favors. Suspicions have surfaced many times over the years that when Bergoglio was the young head of the Jesuit order in Argentina during the late 1970s he took no effective stand against the systematic terror waged by the military, and may indeed have been complicit.

Today, the Dirty War stories are entirely at odds with the image of the humble, kindly old man who appeared on the balcony of St. Peter’s – a man of the people, a man who cares deeply about the poor. So the Vatican spin machine has gone into high gear. And on Friday, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi issued a statement claiming that the attacks on Bergoglio’s reputation were the work of “left-wing anticlerical elements” who are always attacking the Church.

Lombardi also noted that a Jesuit who was abducted and tortured by the Argentine military in 1976, and who reportedly blamed Bergoglio for failing to protect him and possibly implicating him, had issued a statement saying they had been “reconciled” long ago.

But the language of that statement was very careful. It was even, one might say, Jesuitical. The priest in question is the Hungarian-born Father Franz Jalics, who is now in his mid-80s and living in a German monastery. As we have reported, Jalics wrote eloquently in 1994 about his horrific experiences in captivity in Argentina and the many years of prayer and contemplation that it took before he could forgive the man he blamed for what happened to him—a man he let others identify as Bergoglio.

The statement issued in Jalics’s name by the Jesuits in Germany today does nothing to clear up the facts of what happened in Buenos Aires in 1976. It only shows, once again, that Jalics has indeed decided to forgive Bergoglio for whatever he did and that he wants to move on.

“I cannot comment on the role of Fr Bergoglio during that period,” Jalics says in the statement. He notes that he celebrated mass with him years later, and “as far as I am concerned the case is closed.” He then wishes Pope Francis “God’s rich blessings for his office.”

Meanwhile, testimony at the ongoing trial of the 44 men charged with crimes against humanity in Argentina continues to raise new questions about Bergoglio’s performance amid the horrors of the past. [Continue reading…]

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