Vatican rejects claims Pope Francis ‘did not do enough’ during Argentine junta years

New pontiff tells elderly cardinals old age is ‘seat of wisdom’

Newly elected Pope Francis I, greets Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the dean of the College of Cardinals, in the Clementine Hall. Photograph: Osservatore Romano , Reuters

Newly elected Pope Francis I, greets Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the dean of the College of Cardinals, in the Clementine Hall. Photograph: Osservatore Romano , Reuters

Sat, Mar 16, 2013, 07:37

Patsy McGarry in Rome

The Vatican has rejected allegations made against Pope Francis in Argentina arising from the period of the military junta there in the 1970s.

The claims relate to 1976 when the then Fr Bergoglio was Jesuit provincial in Argentina and two priests of the congregation were kidnapped by the military. They were released after five months. It is alleged he did not do enough to help free them.

In its statement yesterday the Vatican said “the campaign against Bergoglio is well-known and dates back to many years ago. It has been made by a publication that carries out sometimes slanderous and defamatory campaigns. The anti-clerical cast of this campaign and of other accusations against Bergoglio is well-known and obvious.”

It said the allegations “accuse him of not having protected two priests who were kidnapped.” They were never “concrete or credible”, it said and that “he was questioned by an Argentinian court as someone aware of the situation but never as a defendant. He has, in documented form, denied any accusations.”

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

It claimed the allegations were being made b y “by anticlerical elements to attack the Church” and “must be firmly rejected.”

In 1976 Fr Orlando Yorio and another Jesuit priest Fr Francisco Jalics were taken by Argentine navy troops from the slums of Buenos Aires. They were held and tortured for five months at a navy base in the city, where 5,000 people were murdered by the military junta, before being released.

The then Fr Bergoglio was accused by some of abandoning them to the miliary after they became involved withn left wing movements.

The chief accuser is journalist Horacio Verbitsky whose book ‘El Silencio’ claims Fr Bergoglio's relationship with the priests became fraught after theysought his protection when they felt their lives were in danger from the military because of their work in the slums.

Earlier yesterday Pope Francis met most of the 206 members of the College of Cardinals at the Vatican’s Clementine Hall. Some were absent due to ill health. Included were those over 80 as well as the 115 under 80 who participated in the conclave this week.

He began his address to them: “Courage, dear brothers! Probably half of us are in our old age. Old age, they say, is the seat of wisdom. The old ones have the wisdom that they have earned from walking through life. Like old Simeon and Anna at the temple whose wisdom allowed them to recognize Jesus. Let us give with wisdom to the youth: like good wine that improves with age, let us give the youth the wisdom of our lives.”

He said “a mutual understanding and openness has grown in this climate of great cordiality. This is good because we are brothers.” He encouraged them to “return to your Sees to continue your ministry enriched by the experience of these days that have been so full of faith and ecclesial communion.” He then greeted each cardinal individually.

In a message yesterday to Dr Riccardo Di Segni, Chief Rabbi of Rome, Pope Francis said he hoped “to be able to contribute to the progress of the relations that have existed between Jews and Catholics since Vatican Council II.”

Meanwhile Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) has asked described the election of Pope Francis as a “turning point in the life of the Roman Catholic Church” which “also has an impact on people of other churches and faiths.”

Xref to Hugh O’Shaughnessy World View onh Oped and Paddy Agnew in WeekendReview