VATICAN CITY — The Vatican on Friday rejected any suggestion Pope Francis of Argentina was implicated in his country’s so-called “Dirty War “during the 1970s, tackling the issue two days after the pontiff’s election.
On a day Francis delivered a warm address to his cardinals, the Vatican seemed intent on putting to rest questions about the pope’s past, dismissing them as opportunistic defamations from anticlerical leftists.
“There has never been a credible accusation against him,” said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, adding that such charges “must be rejected decisively.”
On the contrary, he said, “there have been many declarations of how much he did for many people to protect them from the military dictatorship.”
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The charges derive from the pope’s days as the provincial, or leader, of Argentina’s Jesuits in the 1970s, a time of conflict in his country when the dictatorship tortured, killed or “disappeared” up to 30,000 people.
Many of the questions have emerged from articles and books published by journalists in Argentina, drawing from documents and statements by priests and lay workers who clashed with the Rev. Jorge Mario Bergoglio before he became a bishop, cardinal and then, on Wednesday, pope.
Lombardi repeated assertions by a prominent human-rights campaigner in Argentina who said there had been “no compromise by Cardinal Bergoglio with the dictatorship.” In Argentina, Fernando Solanas, a director and congressman who was forced into exile during the dictatorship, said Francis was known for his “enormous fairness and wisdom.”
It was not clear how much the cardinals who elected Francis delved into his past.
One of the charges is that Bergoglio was complicit in the kidnapping of two Jesuits with anti-government views.
After the church for years denied any involvement with the dictatorship, Francis, then a cardinal, testified in 2010 that he had met secretly with Gen. Jorge Videla, the former head of the military junta, and Adm. Emilio Massera, the commander of the navy, to ask for the priests’ release.
In an interview published by an Argentine newspaper in 2010, Francis, then a cardinal, said he had helped hide people being sought for arrest by the military because of their political views, had helped others leave Argentina and had lobbied the country’s military rulers directly for the release and protection of others.
Lombardi said the recent reports were part of a long line of “negative campaigns” against the church.
He pointed out that one of the two priests, the Rev. Franz Jalics, had made a statement Friday.
Jalics said he and the other priest moved to a Buenos Aires slum in 1974 to work among the poor, with the permission of the archbishop and of Bergoglio.
He said their position was “misunderstood within the church” and they were later falsely linked to leftist guerrillas. Soldiers arrested and interrogated them, and they were “inexplicably held in custody blindfolded and bound” for five months, even after an officer said he believed in their innocence, according to Jalics.
“I cannot comment on the role of Father Bergoglio in these events,” he said.
Years later, he said, the priests met with Bergoglio, who by then was archbishop of Buenos Aires. “Afterward, we together celebrated Mass publicly and embraced,” Jalics said. “I am reconciled to the events and view them from my side as concluded. I wish Pope Francis God’s rich blessing for his office.”
A spokesman for the German Jesuits said the meeting with Bergoglio took place in 2000.