By Betty Clermont | 23 March 2015
Hagiographies of Jorge Mario Bergoglio may soon obliterate what was written before the media created Pope Francis Superstar. This is an effort to preserve this information along with some background as to what took place during the Argentine dictatorship.
Catholic Hierarchs Support the Junta
All European fascist governments and movements, except the latter German Nazis, were supported by the Catholic Church.
Austrian Bishop Hudal’s ratline concentrated on assisting highly-placed German and Austrian officers to escape post-war prosecution but others paid their way into the ratline. War criminals such as Adolf Eichmann, Josef Mengele, Franz Stangl, Alois Brunner and Walter Rauff sailed from Genoa to Barcelona and on to Buenos Aires. (Michael Phayer, Pius XII, the Holocaust, and the Cold War)
Numerically, the largest ratline was operated by Vatican agent and Croatian Ustasha priest, Krunoslav Draganovic, and “reveals the direct involvement of Pope Pius XII himself,” according to Phayer. The Catholic Ustasha executed, tortured, starved, buried alive and burned to death 750,000 Croatian and Bosnian Serbs, Jews and Roma between 1941 and 1945 with the full knowledge of Pius XII. After the collapse of the Nazi-puppet Ustasha regime, Draganovic established escape routes for Croatian war criminals, mostly to South America.
Juan Peron, who had trained under Mussolini, came to power in Argentina in the spring of 1943 assisted by Fifth Column activity organized by SS-Brigadeführer Walter Schellenberg. In 1946, the archbishop of Freiburg told a U.S. military interrogator that he “considered the SS to be the most respectable of the Nazi Party organizations.” (Charles Higham, American Swastika: The Shocking Story of Nazi Collaborators in Our Midst from 1933 to the Present Day)
“The Vatican, naturally, backed Peron completely.” (Phayer)
Peron welcomed these war criminals to Argentina. “An American diplomat working in the Buenos Aires embassy wrote to the State Department deploring the fact that ‘the Vatican and Argentina [are conniving] to get guilty people to haven in latter country.’” (John Moors Cabot, June 11, 1947, cited by Phayer)
“Investigators of the central war criminal authority in Germany estimated 9,000 war criminals escaped to South America, including Croatians, Ukrainians, Russians and western Europeans who aided the Nazi slaughter. Most, perhaps as many as 5,000, went to Argentina…. Of particular interest to the investigators were the passports provided by the Vatican.”
“Some Jewish groups in Argentina saw a continued Nazi influence in the armed forces and the police long after the first Peron government. They claimed there was persistent anti-Semitism at an official level, and that neo-Nazi propaganda was rife. Speculation and myths about the extent of this influence – and the amounts of money transferred from Nazi Germany into German front companies in Argentina – grew with the years.”
Ousted by the military, Peron lived in exile becoming close to Licio Gelli, grand master of the Italian P2 Masonic Lodge and intimately connected to the Vatican of Paul VI. Peron’s triumphant return and re-election in 1973 was organized by Gelli. Political violence erupted and worsened when Juan Peron died in 1974 and his third wife, Isabel, became the president. “Death squads were set up. The disappearances of innocent civilians started…. Citing ineffectual leadership in a grinding guerrilla war between left and right-wing paramilitary groups,” a military junta led by General Jorge Videla eventually seized power in March 1976.
The junta, led by Videla and Admiral Emilio Eduardo Massera, a member of P2, tortured and killed approximately 30,000 Argentines – anyone even suspected of opposing the regime. This was called the Dirty War because people were captured by the military and killed in secret.
“The Nazi influence was very much a part of the Dirty War. Pictures of Hitler hung in torture chambers and the torturers sometimes played Hitler speeches while torturing.”
Henry Kissinger gave his approval to the Dirty War according to declassified U.S. State Department documents. “Mr. Kissinger, who was America’s secretary of state, is shown to have urged the Argentinian military regime to act before the U.S. Congress resumed session, and told it that Washington would not cause it ‘unnecessary difficulties.’”
The Dirty War was the result of:
A carefully orchestrated campaign by the conservative media, the support of the Argentine landowners and industrialists, and pressure from international financial circles creating an image of the generals as reasonable and honest men willing to shoulder the heavy burden of “saving” Argentina. The military, presenting itself as the defender of “tradition, family and property,” considered any criticism of its rule as a sign of anti-Argentine, subversive behavior….
The internal enemy was [declared] more dangerous than enemies from abroad because it threatened the fundamental Western and Christian values of Argentine society.
(Rita Arditti, Searching for Life: The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo and the Disappeared Children of Argentina)
“Arditti describes the magnitude of the abuses of power that existed at all levels – including within the judicial system and among the highest leaders of the Argentine Catholic Church – as well as detailing the set patterns for the disappearances, tortures, and murders. Fortunately, the vivid descriptions of the tortures (such as torturing children in front of their parents, torturing the fetuses of pregnant women and inciting guard dogs to attack) are mercifully brief.”
Under Videla, a devout Catholic, the junta assumed the posture of defender of the church and the Bishops’ Conference of Argentina were their accomplices. “Patriotism came to be associated with Catholicism,” said Kenneth P. Serbin, a history professor at the University of San Diego. “So it was almost natural for the Argentine clergy to come to the defense of the authoritarian regime.”
In a speech given to the military in 1976, papal nuncio (ambassador) Archbishop Pio Laghi said, “Christian values are threatened by an ideology [communism] that the people reject. The church and the armed forces share responsibility. The former is an integral element in the process. It accompanies the latter, not only by its prayers but by its actions.”
The Catholic Church maintained secret lists of those who disappeared. Laghi, “who visited the detention camps to bless the officers,” was “one of the officials who had access to the lists.”
“Argentine Cardinal Raúl Francisco Primatesta was a longtime confidant of Pope John Paul II. He was reviled by many of his countrymen and even faced prosecution for alleged ‘moral complicity’ with the 1976-83 military junta. Human rights groups accused the cardinal of passing to the military the names of liberal professors and students, many of whom were later detained and joined the ranks of los desaparecidos, the disappeared.”
“The two junta leaders and the military dictator (1981-83) Gen. Leopoldo Galtieri, were trained by the United States in kidnapping, torture, assassination and democracy suppression at the School of the Americas in Panama…. During this harrowing period, the Argentine Catholic Church was shamefully silent in the face of horrific atrocities. Argentine priests offered communion and support to the perpetrators of these crimes, even after the execution of two bishops, including Enrique Angelelli, and numerous priests. Worse, leading church figures were complicit in the regime’s abuses…. “We have much to be sorry for,” Father Ruben Captianio told the New York Times in 2007. “The attitude of the church was scandalously close to the dictatorship to such an extent that I would say it was of a sinful degree.”
“Serious economic problems, mounting charges of corruption, public discontent and, finally, the country’s 1982 defeat by the United Kingdom in the Falklands War following Argentina’s unsuccessful attempt to seize the Falkland Islands all combined to discredit the Argentine military regime. Under strong public pressure, the junta lifted bans on political parties and gradually restored basic political liberties. On October 30, 1983, Argentines went to the polls to elect a new government.”
Based in Bogotá, Colombia, “the Latin American Episcopal Council (Spanish: Consejo Episcopal Latinoamericano), better known as CELAM, pushed the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) toward a more progressive stance. During the next four years, CELAM prepared for the 1968 Medellín Conference in Colombia, officially supporting “base ecclesiastic communities” and the liberation theology later propounded by Gustavo Gutiérrez in his 1972 essay, “A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics and Salvation.” CELAM support for liberation theology was frowned on by the Vatican and Pope Paul VI, who were trying to slow the movement after the Council.”
The following quotes are a minute portion of the CELAM final document produced at Medellin on Justice, Peace and Poverty. [emphasis mine]
Misery besets large masses of human beings in all of our countries. That misery expresses itself as injustice which cries to the heavens….
The lack of solidarity which, on the individual and social levels, leads to the committing of serious sins, is evident in the unjust structures which characterize the Latin American situation….
Temporal progress … is of vital concern to the Kingdom of God….
The Latin American Church encourages the formation of national communities … where all of the peoples but more especially the lower classes have … an active and receptive, creative and decisive participation in the construction of a new society….
Faced with the need for a total change of Latin American structures, we believe that change has political reform as its prerequisite.
Public authority has the duty of facilitating and supporting the creation of means of participation and legitimate representation of the people….
We must awaken the social conscience and communal customs in all strata of society….
The Church – the People of God – will lend its support to the downtrodden of every social class so that they might come to know their rights and how to make use of them….
The Church as a catalyst in the temporal realm in an authentic attitude of service….
These groups … characterize as subversive activities all attempts to change the social system which favors the permanence of their privileges.
Gutierrez “examined our concept of God and the scriptures within the Latin American reality of extreme poverty and systemic injustice … Gutierrez [had] three bottom-line principles about life and death at the bottom. First, material poverty is never good but an evil to be opposed. “It is not simply an occasion for charity but a degrading force that denigrates human dignity and ought to be opposed and rejected.”
Second, poverty is not a result of fate or laziness, but is due to structural injustices that privilege some while marginalizing others. “Poverty is not inevitable; collectively the poor can organize and facilitate social change.”
Third, poverty is a complex reality and is not limited to its economic dimension. To be poor is to be insignificant. Poverty means an early and unjust death. [emphasis mine]
Some Catholic clergy, brothers, nuns and laity embraced this “fundamental option for the poor” and formed “base communities.” “Created in both rural and urban areas, the Christian Base Community, organized often illiterate peasants and proletarians into self-reliant worshiping communities through the tutelage of a priest or local lay member…. Thus, the base community was significant in changing popular interpretations of Roman Catholicism for multiple reasons. Initially, their very structure encouraged discussion and solidarity within the community over submission to church authority and, as their very name suggests, made power seem to flow from the bottom or base upward. The influence of liberation theology meant that discussions within the church were oriented toward material conditions and issues of class interests. Through this process of consciousness raising, evangelization turned into class consciousness.”
Other Latin American Catholics opposed liberation theology.
Bergoglio and Liberation Theology
Jorge Mario Bergoglio, born in Buenos Aires in 1936, ordained a priest in 1969, made his perpetual vows to the Jesuits in 1973. After a short period as novice master, he was appointed provincial of the Argentine Jesuits and their various ministries later that same year.
There are two types of clergy. The parish priest most of us are familiar with is a “diocesan,” sometimes called a “secular,” priest. He is trained in a seminary operated by one or more prelates/hierarchs, i.e. bishops, archbishops, cardinals. He is assigned by, and reports to, the prelate, referred to as the “ordinary,” who is head of the (arch)diocese. The other type, sometimes called a “religious” priest, belongs to a religious order like the Jesuits, Franciscans, Dominicans, etc. Jesuits are trained in a Jesuit institution. All religious priests are assigned by, and report to, a provincial, usually called a superior in other orders. Both types of priests need the approval of the local ordinary to minister within the (arch)diocese, although the ordinary will usually defer to the provincial/superior in giving permission, making assignments or even removing permission.
This permission is sometimes called a “license” depending on the concordat (treaty) signed between the national civil government and the Vatican like the one in Argentina. Where there is no state involvement (there is no such treaty in the U.S.) this permission is called “incardinate.”
The question will arise as to the importance of an Argentine provincial as head of all Jesuits and institutions in that country.
According to Wikipedia, in a country with a population in 1980 roughly that of Texas, the Jesuits – sometimes referred to as the Society of Jesus or the Company of Jesus – have three universities. The Universidad del Salvador, Buenos Aires, currently has fourteen colleges and research facilities in four locations, including medicine and law, with 20,000 undergraduate and more than 8,000 graduate students. The Universidad Catolica de Cordoba has 10,000 students and twelve colleges, including engineering, political science as well as law and medicine. The school which Bergoglio and all Argentine Jesuits attend is the Facultades de Filosofia y Teologia de San Miguel in Buenos Aires because it includes the seminary, sometimes referred to as the Colegio Maximo de San Jose. With two campuses, that school has six colleges, an education training center for adults, a radio station and retreat houses.
I could find no information as to the number of Jesuits in Argentina but, since the order was founded by the Spaniard St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Jesuits are historically of great importance in Argentina as well as all of Latin America. That, and given the size of the above universities, I would guess that the national head of the Jesuits was a VIP in a country where the society, culture, and politics of Argentina were permeated with Roman Catholicism.
“The previous provincial had moved swiftly to initiate Vatican II-inspired reforms, and some vocal discontented Jesuits succeeded in having him removed; he was replaced by Fr. Bergoglio. The latter, too, acted with dispatch, but without consultation. As one Jesuit put it simply, ‘he caused a lot of problems.’”
The Argentine Jesuits operated a Center for Social Research and Social Action (CIAS). “The prevalence of Fr. Jorge Bergoglio and his group within the Society of Jesus diminished the vitality of the Center.” During his tenure as provincial, their publication was “full of articles, of pieces, against Liberation theology.”
British Jesuit Michael Campbell-Johnston made critical visits to Latin America, including Argentina, when there were great internal Jesuit tensions about how best to respond to situations of injustice, including during the Argentine Dirty War. Campbell-Johnston was not only provincial of the British Jesuits but had also spent many years as a priest in San Salvador. The church in El Salvador “was persecuted by a western-supported military dictatorship responsible for the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980, six Jesuits, two U.S. nuns and many other Christian leaders.”
According to Campbell-Johnston, Bergoglio created “deep divisions between the conservative Argentine province of the Jesuits and other Jesuit provinces in the west.” His leadership left the religious order deeply split.
Campbell-Johnston “recounts how, during a visit in 1977, he met Fr. Bergoglio who had been provincial for four years. ‘At the time,’ Fr. Campbell-Johnston says, ‘there were an estimated 6,000 political prisoners in Argentina and another 20,000 desaparecidos, people who had been ‘disappeared.’ In some countries, the Jesuit social institutes were forced to act underground and in secrecy, he writes, ‘but … our institute in Buenos Aires was able to function freely because it never criticized or opposed the government. As a result, there were justice issues it could not address or even mention. This was the topic I remembered discussing at length with Fr. Bergoglio. He naturally defended the existing situation, though I tried to show him how it was out of step with our other social institutes on the continent. Our discussion was lengthy [but] we never reached an agreement.’”
Back in Rome, Campbell-Johnston says he received a copy of a letter to the pope signed by more than 400 Argentinian women who had “lost” children or other relatives and who begged the Vatican to intercede with the military dictatorship. “I took it into the [Vatican] secretariat of state but never received any acknowledgement,” Campbell-Johnston reports.
Brazilian Ivone Gebara, one of Latin American’s leading theologians, referred to Bergoglio’s “well-known criticism of liberation theology. [I]n the informal  pre-conclave discussions, Bergoglio’s profile as a Jesuit known for resisting the liberalizing currents in the order in Latin America during the 1970s was a selling point.”
One of Bergoglio’s defenders, Roberto Bosca, a historian at Opus Dei’s Austral University, “Despite Bergoglio’s reputation as an opponent of Liberation theology during the 1970s, that wasn’t actually the case. He said Bergoglio accepted the premise of Liberation theology, especially the option for the poor, but in a ‘nonideological’ fashion.”
“What is certain is that he is not loved by most of his Jesuit companions…. A part of the church in Argentina was involved in the theology of liberation and opposed the military government. Bergoglio was not. ‘After a war,’ he was heard to say, ‘you have to act firmly’…. ‘He exercised his authority as provincial with an iron fist, calmly demanding strict obedience and clamping down on critical voices. Many Jesuits complained that he considered himself the sole interpreter of St. Ignatius of Loyola, and to this day speak of him warily,’ wrote Jose Maria Poirier, director of the Buenos Aires Catholic magazine El Criterio on the day Bergoglio was elected pope.
The junta “tended to see anyone who worked with the poor or who defended human rights as subversive, either because they were directly participating in the violence or because their teaching of the Gospel provided ideological justification for leftist positions, violent or not.”
“Around 1974, ’75, ’76, many Jesuits and other kinds of priest started abandoning the great congregations to go live in the poor neighborhoods called ‘misery villas.’ Bergoglio was adamantly opposed to that. He became the main detractor of that movement of priests, which denoted issues related to his close relationship with the dictatorship,” according to Fr. Eduardo de la Serna, pastor of Jesus the Good Shepherd parish in Quilmes, Argentina. A theologian and author, de la Serna is coordinator of the group, Priests for the Option for the Poor.
“He urged the more socially committed priests to abandon their social activism in order to avoid repression, as he himself stated [later] in his defense,” noted Claudia Touris, a researcher at the University of Buenos Aires.
Yorio and Jalic
On May 14, 1976, seven youths who were doing pastoral/social work in the shantytown of Bajo Flores were kidnapped by Navy commandos. One of them, Monica Maria Candelaria Mignone, was Emilio Mignone’s daughter. All were taken to the dreaded ESMA (School of Naval Mechanics of Argentina) where thousands were tortured and disappeared. None of the seven were ever seen again.
On May 23, 1976, more of their co-workers in Bajo Flores were arrested. One of the priests who lived in the village told Mignone that the Jesuit priests, Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics, along with several youths who worked with them, were taken. Another priest told Mignone that Yorio and Jalics were also in ESMA. The two priests, who practiced Liberation theology, saw their life mission as alleviating the plight of the poor.
The families of those kidnapped from Bajo Flores made exhaustive efforts to find them. Emilio Mignone and others met with Admiral Oscar Montes, who denied that the youths were in ESMA but admitted that Jalics and Yorio were detained there. Other efforts included meetings with members of the Ministry of Interior and numerous presentations of habeas corpus, but to no avail.
Yorio and Jalics were released five months later. They had been beaten, drugged and left in a suburb of Buenos Aires. Yorio said he was questioned about three of the women taken on May 14 including Mignone’s daughter. María Elena Funes, one of the workers kidnapped with Yorio and Jalics and released, also confirmed that they were interrogated about these women while at ESMA.
Yorio, a native of Argentina, left the Jesuits and became a diocesan priest in Argentina’s diocese of Viedma. Later he moved to Uruguay. Jalics, a Hungarian, remained a Jesuit but left Argentina and eventually joined his fellow Jesuits in Germany.
In 1975, Bergoglio had given administration of the Universidad del Salvador to leaders of the Iron Guard, “an ultra-catholic, Peronist, right-wing, nationalist organization.” On November 25, 1977, the university awarded a “doctor honoris causa” (honorary doctor) degree to Massera. This degree is often conferred to recognize a distinguished visitor’s contributions to society. While Bergoglio did not attend the ceremony which included a speech by Massera, as provincial, he still had oversight of this Jesuit institution and the event could not have been held without his approval.
Roberto Pizarro, Dean of the Faculty of Economics of the University of Chile and rector of University Academy of Christian Humanism, thinks it was “inexcusable” for Bergoglio to have honored Massera, head of ESMA where “thousands of young Argentines were tortured and murdered in a reproduction of Auschwitz.” For Bergoglio to have “cultivated a relationship” with Massera is a “stain” on his record for which “Argentines, the Jesuits and the two hundred billion Catholic in the world deserve an explanation.”
Also in November 1977, “Yorio wrote a 27-page formal report to the Jesuit hierarchy in Rome addressing it to Father Moura, the chaplain to the Society of Jesus in Rome.
It gives a chilling first-hand account of how the priests were seized by armed troops, drugged, tortured and held for five months then dumped half-naked in a field.
And it describes how Yorio and Jalics became convinced Bergoglio had betrayed them, ignoring their desperate pleas to protect them from the military. The two men were suspected of collaborating with guerrillas because of their work among the poor in Buenos Aires slums. Shortly before they were seized, they were dismissed from the Jesuit order by Bergoglio.
Yorio wrote in his report: ‘Rumors emerged about our participation with the guerrillas. As things were in Argentina, a claim like that coming from important mouths (as the Jesuits are) could, plain and simply, signify our death.
‘The forces of the extreme right had already machine-gunned a priest in his house and had kidnapped, tortured and left for dead another. Both of them were living in poor towns. We had received various warnings along the lines that we should take care. Father Jalics had personally spoken with several Jesuits to warn them of the situation and make them take note of the danger. He had also spoken about this with Father Bergoglio, making him see above all that my life had been put in serious danger.’
‘That month of December , given the continuing rumors about my participation with the guerrillas, Father Jalics spoke seriously again with Father Bergoglio. [He] recognized the seriousness of the situation and promised to put a stop to the rumors and to hurry up and speak to people from the armed forces to testify to our innocence.’
Yorio claims Bergoglio not only failed to quash the rumors, he actively spread them among Jesuits. He wrote: ‘We began to suspect his honesty.’
According to Yorio’s account, Bergoglio wrote a letter to Argentinian Archbishop Miguel Raspanti outlining serious accusations against the two priests. It is not clear if Bergoglio was making the allegations himself, or passing on accusations made by others. Yorio wrote: ‘I went to speak to Father Bergoglio and he totally denied it. He said his report had been completely favorable and that Archbishop Raspanti was elderly and sometimes got confused.’
Yorio then described the horror of being kidnapped on May 23, 1976, tortured and interrogated at a prison in the Navy School of Mechanics in the Argentine capital, where 5,000 people were murdered during the dictatorship.
He wrote: ‘For five months Father Jalics and I were chained by the feet and hands and had our eyes covered. Totally incommunicado.
‘The first four or five days I went without eating, without drinking water, without going to the bathroom. A month and a half later I was able to change my dirty clothes.
‘On the sixth day they put me together with Father Jalics. They started giving me food and I was able to go to the bathroom.’
Yorio said he was drugged and interrogated. He was accused of being a guerrilla and of ‘having sexual relations with a female catechist.’ A public outcry over their arrests meant they were eventually freed, dumped semi-naked from a helicopter in a field outside Buenos Aires on October 23.
The damning report was handed to The Mail by leading Argentine author and human rights activist Horacio Verbitsky, who began investigating Bergoglio shortly after he was named Archbishop of Buenos Aires in February 1998. It was given to him by Yorio’s family after the priest died from natural causes in 2000.”
Emilio Mignone founded, and was the first president of, the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) “a non-governmental organization of Argentina founded in 1979, aimed at promoting and defending human rights and strengthening the democratic system.” He is “considered one of the leading advocates of human rights in Argentina during the dictatorship” who became an “emblematic figure of the human rights movement in Argentina.” A devout Catholic, he was also director of Catholic Action and “one of the greatest experts on the Argentine Catholicism.”
Based on ten years of all-consuming investigations into his daughter’s disappearance, Mignone’s book, Church and Dictatorship: The Role of the Church in Light of Its Relations with the Military was published in 1986 when Bergoglio was almost unknown outside of Argentina. The following is from articles here, here and here.
According to Mignone, during a meeting with the military junta in 1976, then president of the Argentine Episcopal Conference and military chaplain, Archbishop Adolfo Servando Tortolo, agreed that before a priest was arrested, the military would warn his respective bishop.
“On some occasions the green light was given by the same bishops” to act against some priests. Mignone added that, “A week before [Yorio and Jalics’] arrest, Archbishop Juan Carlos Aramburu had withdrawn their ministerial licenses without reason or explanation. Because of various expressions heard by Yorio in captivity, it was clear to him that the Navy interpreted Aramburu’s decision and, perhaps, some criticism from his provincial, Jorge Bergoglio, as an authorization to take action against him. Most certainly, the military had warned both Aramburu and Bergoglio of the supposed danger that Yorio posed.”
Mignone thought Bergoglio’s criticism “served as part of the basis for the arrest, imprisonment and torture of the Jesuit priests.” Mignone wonders “what will history say of these shepherds who delivered their sheep to the enemy without defending them or rescuing them.”
“Two bishops, more than a hundred priests, religious and seminarians, thousands of committed Christians fell. But there was no collective pastoral bishops condemning the persecution or the excommunication of those responsible. This was a curious spectacle. Bishops who shared favors with a regime that terrorized and massacred their priests and faithful!” Mignone wrote, “The majority of the Argentine hierarchy collaborated by action or omission, with the Argentine military junta.”
Mignone referred to the church’s “sinister complicity” with the military who “were commissioned to carry out the task of cleaning the dirty courtyard of the church, with the acquiescence of the prelates.”
In 1990, Jalics, who remained a Jesuit, met with Mignone and his wife during one of his visits to Argentina. “He told them that Bergoglio opposed his staying in Argentina once he had been freed and spoke with all the bishops about not accepting him in their dioceses if he should resign from the Company of Jesus.”
Bergoglio was appointed an auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires in 1992.
Jalics wrote in his 1994 book Ejercicios de Meditación:
“Many people who held political convictions on the extreme right looked unfavorably on our presence in the slums. They interpreted the fact that we would live there as support for the guerrillas and they proposed denouncing us as terrorists. We knew which way the wind was blowing and who was responsible for these calumnies. So I went to speak with the person in question and I explained to him that he was playing with our lives. The man promised me that he would let the military know that we were not terrorists. From later statements by an officer and 30 documents I had access to later, we were able to prove without a doubt that this man had not kept his promise but that, on the contrary, he had given a false denunciation to the military.”
[In another part of the book, he adds that that person] “made the denunciation credible by the weight of his authority” and “testified to the officials who kidnapped us that we had worked at the scene of terrorist activity. Shortly before that I had told that person that he was playing with our lives. He must have been aware that he was sending us to a certain death with his statements.”
Jalics also wrote that he burned the documents proving what he calls “the offense” of his persecutor in 1980. He had held on to them with the secret intention of using them. “Since then I feel truly free and I can say that I have forgiven with all my heart.”
Verbitsky was a member of the Montoneros, leftist urban guerillas. “Montoneros initiated a campaign to destabilize by force what they deemed pro-American regimes.” During the 1970s, they kidnapped and executed those they considered to be enemies. Their bombs injured and killed innocent civilians. The military junta tortured and killed its members so that the group “was effectively finished off by 1977.”
Verbitsky handled communications for that organization. “He was accused of participating in two attempts to assassinate Perón … He is linked with multiple armed clashes, confirmed by him in a 2000 interview. He is also linked to the kidnapping of the Born brothers. He was responsible for bombing the building Libertador (March 1976) where there were a number of innocent civilians. He was associated with the assault on La Tablada, which left 39 dead and dozens injured in 1989. He was acquitted, along with other Monteneros, in the Federal Coordinating explosion, which killed 23 people in July 1976.
Today, Verbitsky is “one of Argentina’s leading investigative journalists, a columnist and press freedom activist” writing for the newspaper El País (Spain); The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. He has built his distinguished career by fearlessly exposing government corruption and battling restrictive press laws….
His best-selling book The Flight contained the first public confessions of an official involved in Argentina’s Dirty War and related how hundreds of prisoners of the military regime from 1976 to 1983 were thrown to their deaths from airplanes.
Verbitsky has played a front-line role in strengthening democracy and safeguarding press freedoms in Argentina and Latin America and has been given the following awards:
– Latin American Studies Association Media Award (LASA), (USA, 1996)
– Konrad Adenauer Foundation and Centro de Estudios Unión para una Nueva Mayoría, (Argentina, 1997)
– Human Rights Watch Hellman/Hammett Grant, (USA, 1998)
– Martín Fierro to the best journalist on TV (Argentina, 2000)
– One of four winners of the Committee to Protect Journalists International Press Freedom Award for his reporting and his work in defending press freedom in Argentina (USA, 2001)
– Commission Nationale Consultative des Droits de l’Homme, for the Center for Legal and Social Studies in Argentina “por el proyecto de despenalización de ‘calumnias e injurias’ en casos de interés público”. (France, 2009)
– Award Gruber, for the CELS, by the National Constitution Center of Philadelphia (USA, 2011)
Verbitsky wrote 21 books whichno [sic] no information about Bergoglio.
(This Wikipedia information has been altered to remove some of the laudatory information about Verbitsky since I began researching for this article. The reason will become evident.)
Mignone died in December 1998 and his successor as president of CELS is Verbitsky who is “simultaneously, a member of the board of Human Rights Watch / Americas.”
Bergoglio was appointed Coadjutor (with right of succession to) Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1997 and Archbishop in 1998.
Verbitsky’s article, “Con el mazo dando,” published in April, 1999, stated that the new archbishop of Buenos Aires, “according to which source is consulted, is either the most generous and intelligent man ever to say Mass in Argentina or a Machiavellian felon who betrayed his brothers for the sake of an insatiable thirst for power. The explanation may lie in the fact that Bergoglio brings together two traits that don’t always go together: he is an extreme conservative in matters of dogma and he possesses an obvious social concern.”
The article included parts of Mignone’s book as well as statements by Alicia Oliveira, an attorney with CELS and Bergoglio’s close friend. According to Oliveira, Bergoglio told Yorio and Jalics “they had to straighten up and they didn’t pay any attention to him. When they were kidnapped, Jorge found out that the Navy had them and he went to talk to Massera, whom he told that if he didn’t release the two priests, ‘I, as provincial, will denounce what happened.’ The next day they were freed.”
Verbitsky also included a statement by Jesuit priest, Juan Luis Moyano Walker, who had also been a close friend of Bergoglio’s: “The Navy did not get involved with anybody in the church who didn’t bother them. The [Argentine Jesuits] did not have a prophetic or denouncing role, in contrast with [other religious orders] because Bergoglio had ties with Massera. It is not only the cases of Yorio, Jalics and Mónica Mignone, about whose kidnappings the Company never made public denunciations. Two other priests, Luis Dourrón, who later left the priesthood, and Enrique Rastellini were also active in Bajo Flores. Bergoglio asked them to get out of there and when they refused, he let the military know that he was no longer protecting them and with that wink they kidnapped them.”
“Because of the article, Bergoglio offered me his own version of events, in which he appears as a super-hero,” wrote Verbitsky. “Both he and Jalics, whom I telephoned at his German retreat, asked me to attribute their statements to a priest close to both of them. Bergoglio said that he saw Videla twice and Massera twice. At the first meeting with each of them, both told him they didn’t know what had happened and that they were going to find out. At the second meeting, Massera was annoyed with this 37-year-old kid who dared to persist. According to Bergoglio, they had this dialogue:
‘I’ve already told [Archbishop Adolfo Servando] Tortolo what I knew,’ Massera said.
‘Monsignor Tortolo,’ Bergoglio corrected him. [In Spanish, the rank of bishop is addressed as “Monsignor”.
‘Look, Bergoglio ….,’ Massera began, annoyed over the correction.
‘Look, Massera…,’ Bergoglio responded in the same tone before repeating that he knew where the priests were and demanding their release.
I limited myself to transcribing what Bergoglio said, with the attributions that he asked for. But to this day that dialogue does not seem believable to me, with one of the most powerful and cruel officials, who, with no hesitation, would have had him disappeared.”
Verbitsky describes other occurrences which, “contradict the fantasy dialogue in which the young Bergoglio defies the head of the ESMA.”
Verbitsky: “Following that article, Orlando Yorio contacted me from Uruguay, where he lived. By phone and email he refuted the claims of Bergoglio and Oliveira. ‘Bergoglio did not warn us of looming danger’ and ‘I do not have any reason to think he did something for our freedom, but rather the opposite,’ he said. The two priests ‘were freed by the efforts of Emilio Mignone and the intercession of the Vatican and not by the actions of Bergoglio, who had delivered them,’ said Angelica Sosa, Mignone’s wife. (See Desde El Mostrador.CL)
Verbitsky: “During the investigation [of the island of El Silencio in which the Navy hid 60 detainees] I found by chance in the archives of the Foreign Affairs Ministry a folder with documents that, in my view, put an end to the discussion of Bergoglio’s role in relation to Yorio and Jalics. I looked for a clerk, who certified its location in the archives, whose director at the time, Minister Carlos Dellepiane, kept them in a safe to protect them from being stolen or destroyed. The story that folder tells sounds familiar.
“Jalics passport had expired in 1979 and Bergoglio asked the ministry to renew it without his returning to the country. The director of the Culto Católico in the ministry, Anselmo Orcoyen, recommended the request be rejected ‘because of the petitioner’s historical antecedents,’ which were supplied to him ‘by Father Bergoglio himself, the signer of the note, with a special recommendation that what he requested not be granted.’ He said that Jalics had conflicts over obedience and corrupting activity in feminine religious congregations, and that, together with Yorio, they were ‘detained’ in ESMA for ‘suspected of guerrilla contacts.’ That is, the same charges made about Yorio and Jalics by Bergoglio (and that many priests and laymen that I interviewed corroborated): while he seemed to aid them, Bergoglio was turning them in behind their backs. It is clear that this act in 1979 is not sufficient to legally convict Bergoglio of the 1976 kidnapping (the document signed by Orcoyen was not even made part of the folder) but it traces out a line of conduct. Adding the director of the Culto Católico of the dictatorship to a conspiracy against the church would be too much. Therefore, Bergoglio and his spokesman are silent about these documents and choose to dismiss those who found them, preserved them and published them.”
From Arrupe to Wojtyla
Unlike other religious orders, Jesuit provincials are appointed by the superior general, not elected by the members of their local community. The superior general of the Jesuits, Fr. Pedro Arrupe, appointed Bergoglio as provincial in 1973 and removed him in 1979.
Very little had been written about the next thirteen years of Bergoglio’s life before he was elected pope. The official Vatican biography states only:
He then resumed his work in the university sector and from 1980 to 1986 served once again as rector of the Colegio de San José in San Miguel, as well as a parish priest in San Miguel. In 1986, he went to Germany to finish his doctoral thesis; his superiors then sent him to the Colegio del Salvador in Buenos Aires and next to the Jesuit church in the city of Córdoba as spiritual director and confessor.
“The crowning moment” in Arrupe’s career was his 1975 decree which “redefined the work of the Jesuits as supporting social justice.” It read in part: “Today our prime educational objective must be to form men-for-others…. men who cannot even conceive of love of God which does not include love for the least of their neighbors; men completely convinced that love of God which does not issue in justice for others is a farce …”
“Arrupe was very conscious of the fact that this decree would cause endless grief to Jesuits working in Latin America at this time when fascist dictatorships prevailed in the Southern cone and in Central America.”
“This [decree] led the Jesuits, especially in Latin America, to work in practical ways with the poor. In spite of threats against their lives, threats that led to the murder of six priests in El Salvador in 1989, the Jesuits continued their justice work with the poor, with Arrupe’s support.”
“Arrupe urged his priests to assume a political and social commitment. As a result, more Jesuits were persecuted, tortured and forcibly disappeared in Latin America in the 1970s than priests from any other order.”
As provincial, Bergoglio had not only failed to “seek justice for others” and make a “political and social commitment” to do so, but he also forbade other Argentine Jesuits acting in this way.
Five months after Bergoglio’s election as pope, two reliable Vatican reporters wrote about this period in Bergoglio’s life. Andrea Gagliarducci referred to it as a “vacuum in Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s biography. The Province of the Company of Jesus exiled him to Germany. Arrupe was one of the strongest adversaries of Bergoglio within the Jesuits.” Sandro Magister: “Little is known about … the real motivations that led to his subsequent marginalization until his exile in the peripheral Jesuit residence of Córdoba as a simple spiritual director.”
Bergoglio biographer Paul Vallely (Pope Francis: Untying the Knots (August 2013)), wrote that “After his time as provincial, Fr. Bergoglio taught theology and was rector of the Jesuit seminary in Buenos Aires. He introduced lifestyle changes and theology and liturgy materials that put the school back to pre-Vatican II ways and out of step with Jesuit life and studies in the rest of Latin America. Continuing to act as if he had the power even after his terms of office were over, he was shipped far away (400 miles) to Cordoba (1985) and then to doctoral studies in Germany (1986-89).”
In 1992, Bergoglio was appointed auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires by Pope John Paul II.
Poland’s Karol Wojtyla was an obscure hierarch in an impoverished country until Opus Dei began grooming him. “He was asked to speak at Opus Dei colleges and at the group’s international headquarters in Rome,” according to Martin A. Lee in the July/August 1983 issue of Mother Jones. “And the CIA, which knew that another John XXIII [who preached détente with the Soviet Union] could spell disaster for U.S. foreign policy, doubtless brought its influence to bear on the election of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla through Opus Dei and the Knights of Malta…. Thus far it seems likely that the agency is, on balance, fairly pleased with the pope’s performance,” Lee noted.
Opus Dei is a secret group of international plutocrats who seek hegemony under the auspices of the Catholic Church. Very few choose to disclose their membership but all clergy ordained in their Priestly Society of the Holy Cross are identified. The Knights of Malta are also an international group of wealthy men. But like the Eastern Establishment Republicans were usurped by the neoconservatives, so Opus Dei appropriated whatever power the Knights once had in the Vatican. Father Josemaria Escriva founded Opus Dei in 1928. “The Work,” as it is sometimes referred to by its members, supported and grew along with clerical fascism in Spain. Opus Dei “is an efficient machine run to achieve worldly power,” wrote investigative reporter Penny Lernoux in her 1989 book People of God.
After his election in October 1978, Pope John Paul II denounced Liberation theology. Over a hundred prominent liberal Catholic theologians, including many Jesuits, were silenced or expelled by Wojtyla and his successor, Joseph Ratzinger.
When Arrupe suffered a debilitating stroke in 1981 (some attributed this to John Paul’s persecution of the Jesuits), an appointee named by the pope served as interim superior and Arrupe was forced to resign. Succeeding superior generals have been appointed by Wojtyla or Ratzinger. “The purge of the Society of Jesus fairly converged with the elevation by John Paul II … of Opus Dei to the rank of a ‘personal prelature.’” (Tad Szulc, Pope John Paul II) That is, for the first time in modern Church history, a group was placed outside the authority of any prelate except the pope.
Wojtyla was elected “as right-wing ‘death squads’ were gaining momentum across Latin America. John Paul II offered little protection to left-leaning priests and nuns who were targeted. He rebuffed Archbishop Romero’s plea to condemn El Salvador’s right-wing regime and its human rights violations. He stood by as priests were butchered and nuns were raped and killed, instead of leading the charge for real economic and political change in Latin America.”
His first trip as pope outside of Italy was to a CELAM conference in January 1979 in Puebla, Mexico. He chided hierarchs, clergy and religious for neglecting their “religious” duties for social activism. He warned them against sowing “confusion” among Catholics by portraying Jesus as “someone involved in the class struggle.” And he made it clear that he expected them all to be “docile” to his authority. (See Chap. 6 of my book, The Neo-Catholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America.)
Pope John Paul II directed his church’s resources, including his travel itinerary and personal appearances, in support of the “anti-communist” dictators/butchers of hundreds of thousands.
As soon as Ronald Reagan won the 1980 election, John Paul II moved Archbishop Pio Laghi from Buenos Aires to Washington D.C. Laghi, who had been a tennis partner of Massera, was now playing tennis with Vice President George H.W. Bush.
John Paul II’s next trip to Latin America was to Argentina in 1982. After meeting with Reagan in Rome on June 7, 1982, he left for Buenos Aires on June 10 where he refused to meet with any human rights groups or leaders and never apologized for his church’s complicity in the barbarity.
“During a 1983 trip to Nicaragua – then ruled by the leftist Sandinistas – the pope condemned what he called the ‘popular church.’ [He] allowed the Catholic Church in Nicaragua to be used by the CIA and Reagan’s administration to finance and organize internal disruptions while the violent Nicaraguan Contras terrorized northern Nicaraguan towns with raids notorious for rape, torture and extrajudicial executions…. He also elevated clerics like Bergoglio who didn’t protest right-wing repression.”
Jesuit priests at the time of their solemn and final profession in the Society of Jesus promise: “I will never strive or ambition, not even indirectly, to be chosen or promoted to any prelacy or dignity in or outside the Society; and I will do my best never to consent to my election unless I am forced to do so by obedience to him who can order me under penalty of sin.” After Bergoglio’s election as pope, out of 225 cardinals there are only four Jesuits and none are eligible (due to age) to elect the next pope.
While there may be disagreement about how important the national head of the Jesuits may be, there is no doubt that as soon as Bergoglio became Coadjutor (with right of succession to the) Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1997, the country’s capital, largest and most important city, he became the most influential Catholic official in Argentina. He was elevated to cardinal archbishop in February 2001.
Verbitsky’s sixteenth book, The Silence, was published in 2005. “The Silence disclosed how the Catholic Church actively participated in the dictatorship while having full knowledge of the human rights violations being committed at the time.” His conversations and correspondence with Yorio were included. Verbitsky wrote, “Bergoglio withdrew his order’s protection of the two men after they refused to quit visiting the slums, which ultimately paved the way for their capture.”
April 17, 2005 (AP)
A human rights lawyer has filed a criminal complaint against an Argentine cardinal mentioned as a possible contender to become pope, accusing him of involvement in the 1976 kidnappings of two priests.
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s spokesman Saturday called the allegation “old slander.”
The complaint filed in a court in the Argentine capital on Friday accused Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, of involvement in the abduction of two Jesuit priests by the military dictatorship, reported the newspaper Clarin. The complaint does not specify the nature of Bergoglio’s alleged involvement. The accusations against Bergoglio, 68, are detailed in a recent book by Argentine journalist Horacio Verbitsky.
The court failed to indict Bergoglio.
It has been widely reported that Bergoglio came in second in the conclave which elected Joseph Ratzinger pope on April 19, 2005.
After the 2005 conclave, Bergoglio gave two Argentine journalists his approval to write a book. “The first time I met Bergoglio was in April 2001, straight after the consistory in which John Paul II had created him cardinal,” stated Francesca Ambrogetti. “Ambrogetti had the idea of producing a book of conversations with him. A month or so later, Ambrogetti presented her book proposal to the cardinal and got Sergio Rubin, correspondent for the newspaper, Clarin, involved in the project. ‘Bergoglio kept the proposal in his desk drawer for a long time. Then, after the 2005 conclave, he gave us the go-ahead and brought us a large folder with all his speeches and homilies, asking us to use them as material,’ Ambrogetti said.” She was able to convince Bergoglio to include interviews and “the two journalists met Bergoglio about twenty times between 2007 and 2009 and each meeting lasted at least two hours.”
The book was released as The Jesuit: Conversations with Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio in 2010 and later Pope Francis: Conversations with Jorge Bergoglio: His Life in His Own Words.
In November 2005, Cardinal Bergoglio was elected head of the Argentine Conference of Bishops for a three-year term which was renewed in 2008. “At the time he was chosen, the Argentine church was dealing with a notorious political scandal, that of the Rev. Christian von Wernich, a former chaplain of the Buenos Aires police who had been accused of aiding in the questioning, torture and death of political prisoners.”
“Church authorities had spirited Father von Wernich out of the country and placed him in a parish in Chile under a false name, but he was eventually brought back to Argentina and put on trial. In 2007, he was found guilty on seven counts of complicity in homicide, more than 40 counts of kidnapping and more than 30 of torture, and was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Father von Wernich was allowed to continue to celebrate Mass in prison, and in 2010 a church official said that ‘at the appropriate time, von Wernich’s situation will have to be resolved in accordance with canonical law.’ But Cardinal Bergoglio never issued a formal apology on behalf of the church, or commented directly on the case, and during his tenure the bishops’ conference was similarly silent.”
“The Bishops’ Conference, under the archbishop of Buenos Aires Bergoglio’s presidency, as a means for the church to escape liability, simply remarked on the ‘commotion’ caused by von Wernich’s participation in serious crimes. [He] washed his hands of the situation like Pontius Pilate.”
In 2006, President Nestor Kirchner declared an official day of mourning for Bishop Enrique Angelelli on the 30th anniversary of his death. On July 18, 1976, two priests were abducted and their bodies showing signs of torture were found the next day. They were members of the pastoral mission of Angelelli, “a progressive voice in CELAM, the Latin American bishops’ council, which had played a pivotal role in making Liberation theology into a region-wide force.” On August 4, “Angelelli was returning from a Mass held in honor of the two murdered priests when the truck he was riding in was run off the road. His death was labeled a traffic accident by the regime but it is understood that he was murdered.”
“Father Bergoglio was silent following Angelelli’s assassination even though other leading Argentine clergy condemned the murder.” Cardinal Bergoglio “presided over the 2006 anniversary Mass, celebrated Angelelli and obliquely held him up as a martyr, but he neglected to charge the junta with the bishop’s murder.”
The Jesuit: Conversations with Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was published in early 2010. In the book, Bergoglio “defends himself against those who accuse him of taking away support for Yorio and Jalics after the priests refused to comply with his order to leave the village of Bajo Flores, where they were doing pastoral work …
“In this text, Bergoglio denied that the priests were involved in ‘subversive activities as maintained by the persecutors. Really they were not.’ But he acknowledged that ‘through their relationship with some priests in the shantytowns, they too were exposed to the paranoia of the witch hunt…. Fortunately, Yorio and Jalics were later released, first, because they could not be accused of anything, and second, because we moved like crazy. That same night I heard of the kidnapping, I started to move,’ he added.”
The authors published an excerpt from the book on April 18, 2010.
Bergoglio said that on the eve of the 2005 conclave, someone he doesn’t identify sent a disparaging article written by someone he doesn’t identify to the email address of all the elector cardinals with the purpose of harming his chances of being elected pope. According to Bergoglio, this article accused him of asking the parents of Yorio and Jalics to persuade their sons to abandon their pastoral work for the poor; that when the priests refused, he informed the military that the priests no longer had the protection of the church thus expediting the way for their kidnapping and putting their lives in danger. Bergoglio doesn’t disclose who was able to obtain the email addresses of the elector/cardinals or how this was accomplished.
Bergoglio said he had never responded to these accusations, his alleged ties to the junta or revealed his attitude about the dictatorship because: “If I didn’t speak at the time, it was so that I didn’t do what other people wanted, not because I had something to hide.” But with the urging of Rubin and Ambrogetti, he “recognized that the subject could not be omitted and agreed to tell his version of the facts and his attitude about the dictatorship.”
Having said that he hid people endangered by the junta, the authors asked him how many. He responded that he “hid a few, I do not remember exactly the number,” in the Jesuit school where he was residing. Bishop Fernando Maletti told him that he knew of three seminarians who had been protected in this manner and that this information should be made available to the public.
Asked what else he did during the Dirty War, Bergoglio said that he saved the life of a young man by giving him his own identity card and priest’s clothes as a disguise to cross the border into Brazil.
Additionally – despite his age and lack of connections, he said – he advocated for prisoners. He twice visited Videla and Massera. In his attempt to talk to Videla, he convinced the military chaplain who said Mass for the general to say he was ill so Bergoglio could be his replacement. Bergoglio remembered that this took place in Videla’s residence with the family present on a Saturday afternoon. He doesn’t comment on what security measures a brutal dictator may have taken to guard his home and family. He asked Videla about the location of the arrested priests. He also remembered going to an Air Force base to inquire about the fate of a boy.
“When Néstor Kirchner was elected president in 2003, he revoked a previous government’s amnesty for officials from the dictatorship, and began prosecuting long dormant human-rights cases.”
“His democratic, left-of-centre government also reformed the Supreme Court, making it more politically independent and better able to come to terms with the country’s past.” As a result, by 2010 “slightly more than 50 convictions” had occurred.
The following took place during the criminal trials of eighteen officers who had worked at ESMA.
November 8, 2010, Argentina Independent:
…. Attorney Luis Zamora requested Cardinal Bergoglio’s statement after testimony before the court on 23rd September by María Elena Funes, a former detainee of ESMA [one of the workers kidnapped with Yorio and Jalics].
Her statement informed the court that [Yorio and Jalics] were abducted on 20th May 1976 after Bergoglio removed their religious licenses to preach in Bajo Flores as well as their protection…. Funes went on to state that Bergoglio must have sent a replacement priest to celebrate Mass at the time the military abducted them, as he was never questioned.
Cardinal Bergoglio was called as a witness by the court.
Article 250 of the National Code of Criminal Procedure declares that official dignitaries “are not required to appear” in the court. According to the second paragraph, depending on the importance that the judge administers to their testimony, the witness must “declare at his official residence, or by a written report,” testify under oath.
Cardinal Bergoglio, as the head of the Argentine Catholic Church, said he will provide his testimony, not in public, but before the judges of the fifth Federal Court (TOF 5) and the parties in his office in the Metropolitan Curia adjacent to the cathedral.
November 8, 2010, bajandolineas.com:
Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires and Primate of Argentina, told the judges he tried to protect the priests Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics and met twice with the former president of the military dictatorship, Jorge Videla, and two other times with the late Admiral Emilio Massera, with whom he spoke harshly, to ask them to release the priests….
“He was evasive. Bergoglio was not a collaborator of justice,” said the lawyer Luis Zamora. In his view, the prelate “had 34 years to testify and did not; when summoned he requested to testify in writing, and now his statement was highly significant in terms of what was [the role] of the church in the dictatorship.”
Zamora described [Bergoglio] during interrogation as “someone ostensibly reluctant, measuring word for word” and could not provide any names of those Jesuits who saw Jalics and Yorio as “subversive” for their work in the villages”….
[W]hen the priests were released they related to him what they had suffered and he was in charge of reporting to his superiors.
Zamora [asked Bergoglio] to tell the court what official steps he made to his superiors in 1976 as a representative of the Jesuit order, to formally ask for the release of the kidnapped priests. Bergoglio clarified that his efforts with his superiors in the church and the Vatican were informal (spoken) and therefore there was not any record.
November 9, 2010, La Nacion:
…. About 35 people attended the court hearing, held in a room overlooking the gardens of the Curia. Bergoglio was attended by archdiocesan lawyers and accompanied by the Auxiliary Bishop and his Pastoral Vicar…. [Under questioning] Bergoglio clarified he never went to ESMA and that Jalics and Yorio “were aware that they could end up in a ditch” and, therefore, he advised them to take precautions.
Afterwards, a spokesman for the archdiocese said the hearing unfolded smoothly and all parties expressed their accordance…. “The hearing proceeded in a cordial environment and the cardinal was relaxed,” he said.
The lawyer and former leftist congressman, Luis Zamora, argued that the cardinal “lied” but offered few details. “When someone is reticent about this lying, they’re hiding part of the truth.”
“The cardinal could not justify why those two priests were left in a situation of abandonment and exposed,” said Zamora, insisting that Bergoglio’s testimony “demonstrates the role of the church during the last military dictatorship”….
Therefore, the complaint does not rule out requesting an inspection of church files to reconcile the statement by the cardinal who said, according to reports, that all the information he had received at the time on the fate of the two kidnapped priests had been relayed to his Jesuit superiors.
Sam Ferguson, a visiting fellow at the Schell Center for International Human Rights at Yale Law School and a former Fulbright Scholar, summarizes Bergoglio’s testimony.
Yorio and Jalics, who practiced Liberation theology, saw their life mission as alleviating the plight of the poor. Prior to the coup, Bergoglio said he had given Yorio and Jalics permission to work in the Bajo Flores slum. Bergoglio testified at trial that “every priest that worked with the poor was a target for suspicion and accusation from some sectors,” but as a “Jesuit brother” of the priests, he wanted to do what he could to help them “continue working.” Bergolgio testified that Yorio and Jalics told him several times that they thought they were in danger. He also recalled that he was pressured from inside the church to dissolve the religious community where Yorio and Jalics worked and transfer the priests elsewhere in the church, though he claimed it was for organizational reasons, not ideological ones.
Bergoglio was also questioned about allegations that Yorio’s ministerial license had been revoked several days before the kidnapping, another alleged signal to the military that the priests were fair game. He disputed this account, saying, “I don’t believe that their licenses were suspended.” As evidence, Bergoglio said that the priests continued to work in the slum, which they would not have been permitted to do “if their licenses had been formally suspended.”
Bergoglio also insisted that he was helping Yorio and Jalics. Before the coup, the two had renounced their affiliation with the Jesuit order, and were in a period of “transition,” as Bergoglio called it, looking for a bishop to sponsor them. During this period, Bergoglio told the priests that “that they could celebrate Mass.” Whether Bergoglio had authority to allow them to do so he left “to their interpretation,” implying that their work might not be officially sanctioned, but that he would not disapprove.
Furthermore, when asked if the priests were exposed to slander during this period of transition between leaving the Jesuit order and finding a bishop’s sponsorship, Bergoglio said the priests were only “relatively exposed” because “they knew that they had access to the provincial priesthood of the Jesuits … and that they were in dialogue with the church.” Bergolgio recalled that “I offered them the chance to come live at the provincial priesthood” at the time rumors of an imminent coup began to circulate. Bergoglio said that Yorio and Jalics, in fact, lived there after the coup, in the days before they were kidnapped.
Bergoglio recounted during his testimony the steps he took to ensure Yorio and Jalics’ releases. He testified that he “began to move immediately” when he was alerted of their arrests, which he called a “moment of desperation.” He said he began to “speak with priests that I assumed had access to the police and the armed forces,” to find out which service branch kidnapped the priests. He met twice with Videla. He also met twice with Massera. In the first meeting with Massera, he said he “went to find out, because I didn’t know [where they were]. I gave my testimony that these priests were not involved in anything raro [‘rare’].” But after the meeting Bergoglio said he discovered through back channels that the Navy had, in fact, kidnapped the priests. (He did not specify who gave him this information, only that it was “vox populi.”) After this discovery, the second meeting with Massera was “ugly” and brief. He remembered saying, “Look Massera, I want them to appear.” Then, he testified, “I got up, and I left.”
When Yorio and Jalics were eventually freed, Bergoglio told the court that he helped ensure the priests’ physical safety and arranged for them to leave the country. Bergoglio admitted that he did not file any judicial charges, nor did he make any public statements about Yorio and Jalics. But when asked by one of the three presiding judges if Yorio or Jalics ever told him what they thought about his behavior during their kidnapping, he replied that, in personal conversations, “neither one of them asked me what more I could have done … They didn’t blame me.”
But Yorio’s assertion that he blamed Bergoglio had, in fact, been on the record for several years. “I don’t have any reason to think that [Bergoglio] did anything for our freedom,” he told journalist Horacio Verbitsky in a 1999 interview. Yorio accused Bergoglio of lobbying Argentina’s bishops to stay away from him and Jalics. He also said he thought Bergoglio talked with Massera, the commander-in-chief of the Navy, who had informed him that Yorio and Jalics were guerilla leaders. This, according to Yorio, allowed Bergoglio to “wash his hands” of concern for the priests. “He didn’t wait for me to come out alive,” Yorio said. (Jalics lives in Germany and does not talk about his experience as a victim of Argentina’s repression. He did not respond to an email request for comment.)
Asked at the trial about Yorio’s accusations, Bergoglio testified that Yorio probably thought he had not done enough because Yorio was “conditioned by the suffering that he had to go through.” Bergoglio also insisted that he never thought Yorio and Jalics were extremists.
Luis Zamora, a human rights lawyer who did the majority of the examination, at one point asked Bergolgio, “In these thirty-four years what was the reason that you never approached the courts to give all of the information that you knew and that you are now giving us?” The court did not allow the question, and Bergoglio did not answer.
After the hearing, Zamora described Bergoglio as “reticent,” adding, “when someone is reticent they are lying, they are hiding part of the truth.” Reached for comment, Zamora added that Bergoglio has “completely failed” in his explanation of the past. He added that those who say Bergoglio was an insignificant figure in the church at the time are mistaken, as evidenced by his ability to arrange meetings with Videla and Massera, the country’s two most powerful military men. In his testimony, Bergoglio said he did not remember the names of those who helped him make contact with the military. When asked about records of his conversations with Videla and Massera, he said that he didn’t have any because the time pressures were so great that he had to move quickly and he did not have time to write anything down.
At trial he added, “I have spoken a lot about this with those who asked. I have given everything I know: Obviously the injustice of what they suffered, all of this, my position is clear. I don’t give journalistic interviews as a matter of course. But, at one time I gave one journalist (Verbitsky) an interview, so that he could know my point of view. Those that know me know that I always have spoken in the tone that I have spoken here today.”
You can read Bergoglio’s testimony in Spanish here.
The questioning of Bergoglio on November 8, 2010, had begun with what he knew about the kidnapping of Esther Balestrino de Careaga and two nuns in December 1977. Balestrino was head of the chemical analysis lab were Bergoglio had worked in 1953-54 and he considered her to be his friend.
Two of her sons were kidnapped and disappeared. Her daughter, Ana Maria Careaga, three months pregnant, was abducted on June 13, 1977, and tortured in the secret detention center Club Atlético where she gave birth. The baby was taken in the junta’s program of stealing the babies of detainees and giving the children away to families who sympathized with the dictatorship.
In October 1977, Ana María was released and Esther fled with Ana Maria and her three remaining sons to Brazil and then to Switzerland. Nevertheless, Esther returned to Argentina shortly afterwards to continue the struggle against the disappearances until she herself was disappeared, along with the two nuns. All three were tortured in ESMA and thrown alive into the sea from an airplane.
Esther, along with Azucena Villaflor de Vicenti and María Ponce de Bianco, was one of the founding organizers of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo. Every Thursday, beginning in 1977, the mothers walked around the Plazo de Mayo, the central square near the government palace in Buenos Aires, demanding the return of the “disappeared” and relentlessly investigating these atrocities. Villaflor was working with Angelica Sosa de Mignone, the wife of Emilio Mignone, and other mothers of Plaza de Mayo the night before she was “disappeared.” Villaflor and Ponce were also taken to ESMA and never seen again.
Part of the Bergoglio’s testimony about Ballestrino follows (Z Zamoro, B Bergoglio):
Z. – Do any records exist in some archive of the Catholic Church?
B. – I suppose so, but I don’t know for sure.
Z. – Are those files under your control?
B. – The central archive of the CEA (Conference of the Catholic Bishops) is under the control of the CEA
Z. – And who supervises the CEA?
B. – I do.
Z. – So, could you locate it [the file]?
B. – I can look for it, but not sure I can find it.
The second time Bergoglio was asked to testify was by the sixth Federal Court (TOF 6) on September 26, 2011, about the junta’s “systematic plan of appropriation of children of the disappeared,” specifically about the case of Elena de la Cuadra, who was abducted and detained at ESMA. Again, Bergoglio received the privilege of being able to testify from his own office, by some accounts in writing. According to the de la Cuadra family who lost five relatives during the Dirty War, when the five-month pregnant Elena was kidnapped in 1977, they wrote the Jesuit Superior General, Pedro Arrupe, for assistance. Arrupe asked Bergoglio to help them.
Elena’s father twice went to see Bergoglio who referred him to the Archbishop of La Plata, Mario Picchi. “Months passed before the [bishop] came back with a written note from a colonel: It revealed that the woman had given birth in captivity to a girl who was given to a family ‘too important’ for the adoption to be reversed.” Elena was never seen again. Elena’s mother, Alicia, also became one of the first Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo.
Part of the testimony is as follows (I Investigator, B Bergoglio):
I – When did you learn that children were being confiscated during the dictatorship?
B – Recently … Ah, recently, some ten years ago.
I – Would that be around the year 199X?? [sic]
B – Maybe sometime around the time of the Trial of the Juntas.
I – A bit earlier then.
B – A bit earlier. Around that time, more or less, I started to find out about that.
I – We have talked at various times about documentation that could or could not be provided to the proceedings (trial/tribunal). I would like to conclude by asking that we come to an agreement on the manner in which the tribunal can gain access to this valuable documentation, as it is public knowledge and widely known that the church has much of the documentation. This is apparent in record of evidence given in various testimonies, including testimonies that have been heard here in this trial. So, before finishing this hearing, we need to come to an agreement and a determination of the most expeditious manner by which the tribunal can gain access to all of that valuable archival documentation.
President [of the Tribunal] – Ask for it, Doctor.
I – I’m wondering if there will be an agreed upon way we can find and get to see this documentation.
President – So the question is whether the gentleman testifying will permit a review of the [church] files.
B – Yes, I have no problem with that. I will instruct the custodians of the archives to do so. In fact, we have received documentation requests regarding other trials on the same topic, and we sent what we had, whatever we had.
According to one observer, Bergoglio responded with “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember” to the majority of the 33 questions. Asked if he had met with Elena de la Cuadra’s family, he said, “I have no knowledge, but it is likely that this happened.” His response that he only knew about the stolen babies “around the time of the Trial of Juntas” (1986) was “surprising” because the Mothers (now Grandmothers) of the Plaza de Mayo have been active since 1977.
You can read Bergoglio’s testimony in Spanish here.
As regards what records the Argentine bishops were holding, it was reported in May 1995 that the
“Vatican Embassy in Buenos Aires kept a secret list of thousands of people who ‘disappeared’ during Argentina’s dirty wars of the late 1970s which it failed to make public at the time and may have since destroyed, according to church sources….
Italian Cardinal Pio Laghi, who was Papal Pro-Nuncio in Buenos Aires during the military dictatorship and later served as Pro-Nuncio in the United States, confirmed last week that he knew of some 6,000 cases of people who “disappeared.”
Now based in Rome, the Cardinal made his admission in an interview with an Argentinean magazine following claims by Father Federico Richards, a Catholic priest at the Church of the Holy Cross, that Pio Laghi kept one list at his office while a second was kept at the office of the Military Vicarate….”
Richards discovered a second list of 2,100 “disappeareds” kept by Argentine Bishop Adolfo Tortolo, Argentina’s Vicar of the Armed Forces. Father Richards notes that neither the Papal Nuncio’s office nor the Military Vicarate could inform him of the fate of his niece, who remains missing to this day.
In an editorial written at the time  entitled “The Silence of the Bishops,” Father Richards condemned the hierarchy of the Argentine Catholic Church for not speaking out against the excesses of the military government. While the editorial prompted an enraged rebuke from Argentina’s Cardinal-Primate, the U.S. prelate who headed Richards’ order at the time congratulated him for his bravery. Richards and members of another Irish parish active in human rights, St. Patrick’s, credit their ties to the Irish orders with having prevented Argentina’s hardline bishops from silencing them….” [emphasis mine]
Former General Jorge Videla was sentenced to 50 years imprisonment for orchestrating the theft of babies born in captivity to women subsequently murdered by their military captors. In a series of interviews conducted in 2010 but not made available until July 22, 2012, Videla boasted in front of a video camera of his “excellent, cordial, sincere and open” relationship with the church and his friendship with then president of the Bishops’ Conference (CEA), Cardinal Raúl Primatesta, “a friend and confidant of Pope John Paul II.”
“‘It was necessary to eliminate a large number of persons who could neither be brought to justice nor shot,’ Videla said with all naturalness in front of the video camera. So as ‘not to provoke protest inside or outside the country,’ he said, ‘the decision was made that these people should be disappeared. Every disappearance can be understood to hide a death.’ For the ex-dictator the slaughter was inevitable: ‘There was no other solution; it was the price to pay to win the war against the guerillas and we needed that it not be evident to society…. Our aim was to discipline an anarchic society … and install a market economy.’”
Videla said that during the Dirty War:
– Military chaplains were assigned as spiritual advisers to the junior officers who staffed the detention centers where thousands of suspected opponents were tortured and murdered.
– He (Videla) kept the country’s Catholic hierarchy informed about his regime’s policy of “disappearing” political opponents, and that Catholic leaders offered advice on how to “manage” the policy.
– He had “many conversations” with Cardinal Primatesta about his regime’s war against left-wing activists.
– There were also conversations with other leading bishops from the CEA as well as with the papal nuncio, Archbishop Pio Laghi. “They advised us about the manner in which to deal with the situation [of the disappeared],” said Videla.
– He said that in certain cases church authorities offered their “good offices” and undertook to inform families looking for “disappeared” relatives to desist from their searches, but only if they were certain the families would not use the information to denounce the junta.
– He said the church “understood well … and also assumed the risks” of such involvement.
After Videla’s interview, church leaders had little choice but to respond. Bergoglio was no longer president of the CEA but, as cardinal primate, such an important statement would not have been issued without his approval. The statement, Los Obispos de la República Argentina, 104º Asamblea Plenaria, 9 de noviembre de 2012, “acknowledged the church’s failure to protect its flock during the 1970s.”
“We must take into account the socio-political context of the time, and then the various actors involved.”
“We know the suffering … because of state terrorism; as we know of the death and devastation caused by guerrilla violence.”
They absolve the church from any guilt: “We have the word and testimony of our elder brothers, the bishops who preceded us about whom we cannot know how much they personally knew of what was happening. They tried to do everything in their power for the good of all, according to their conscience and considered judgment….”
As proof, the bishops offer statements by the CEA in 1972 and 1977 denouncing torture and violence. Their 1981 statement noted the “reprehensible violence by the guerrillas” as well as “violence by the State, outlaws, or by paramilitary groups.”
They also refer to a statement they made in 2000 in which they “ask for forgiveness, as few institutions did … we have been, at various times in our history, tolerant of totalitarian attitudes, [allowing] damage to the democratic freedoms which spring from human dignity” and that they “repeat that apology.”
“This is what is required: a determination to search for the truth, the recognition of that which is deplorable, the repentance of those who are guilty, and reparations made for the injustice and damages suffered.” But they refer to the Videla’s video statement as being “completely divorced from the truth of what the bishops were involved in at that time.”
“For our part, we have cooperated with the law when we have been asked for information which we have. In addition, we encourage those with information on the whereabouts of stolen children or know clandestine burial sites, to recognize their moral obligation to go to the relevant authorities.”
The following month, in December 2012, “an Argentine court ruled that the church was an ‘accomplice’ of crimes against humanity committed during the military dictatorship…. In their ruling, the judges … speak of the ‘indifference’ of the church during the Dirty War…. The three judges stated: ‘Surely the members of God’s people, and the generality of Argentina society, expect from an institution of such importance as the Catholic Church more crisp and clear repudiations and who, in one way or another, allowed and consented to the commission of serious events such as those now judged.’”
“Groups like Priests with an Option for the Poor, Christians for the Third Millennium or the Liberation Theology Collective have voiced increasingly harsh criticism against the Argentine Bishops’ Conference’s shortcomings in terms of self-criticism, in spite of an apology and pledge to investigate issued a few months ago….
‘It’s good that this debate is happening, that we work to clarify what happened, so that the truth will come to light. That would be very healthy,’ Claudia Touris, a researcher at the University of Buenos Aires and the coordinator of Relig-Ar Grupo de Trabajo en Religión y Sociedad de Argentina, told IPS….
The debate that has divided Catholics in Argentina broke out as a result of a statement issued in November 2012 by the Argentine Bishops’ Conference, in which they apologize ‘to those we let down or failed to support as we should have’ during the dictatorship. They also promised to carry out ‘a more thorough study,’ to find out the truth…. [The statement] condemns the crimes committed as a result of ‘state terrorism’ but adds that ‘We also know of the death and devastation caused by the violence of the guerrillas.’
Christians for the Third Millennium described the statement as falling short because it denies the connivance between some prelates and the dictatorship. According to the group made up of laypersons, those who served as military chaplains should be demanded to provide information, and ‘scandalous situations that confuse and weaken the faithful should be brought to an end.’
For their part, Priests with an Option for the Poor said they were ‘scandalized by so many stances running counter to the Gospels’ and by the fact that the priest Christian von Wernich, who was sentenced for human rights violations, ‘was not expelled from the priesthood,’ and the unrepentant former dictator Jorge Rafael Videla, found guilty of crimes against humanity, continues to receive communion.
Priests with an Option for the Poor – priests who live and work in Argentina’s slums – loudly protested because the bishops had taken reprisals against one of the priests who had criticized the statement released by the bishops’ conference. Bishop Francisco Polti of the northern province of Santiago del Estero transferred Father Roberto Burell, one of the signatories of the letter that the Priests with an Option for the Poor sent to the bishops, from his parish. ‘We aren’t going to call you ‘estimados’ (esteemed – the formal form of address in a letter in Spanish) because we do not esteem cowards,’ says the letter sent by the priests. The priests also told the bishops that when there are no longer bishops ‘only the powerful will be sorry, because the poor, the peasants and indigenous people will celebrate’….
That was the climate among Catholics in Argentina when Cardinal Bergoglio was elected Wednesday March 13 as the first pope from Latin America.”
Betty Clermont is author of The Neo-Catholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America (Clarity Press, 2009).
Bitter Past: Pope Francis and Argentina’s Dirty War
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