Jesuit questions Pope Francis’s record in Argentina

Priests says institute in Buenos Aires never criticised or opposed the government

Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, Argentina, before he became pope

Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, Argentina, before he became pope


Deep divisions between the conservative Argentine province of the Jesuits, for long headed by Fr Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, and other Jesuit provinces in the west, are detailed in report in today’s Tablet , the British Catholic weekly, by Fr Michael Campbell-Johnston SJ, a former provincial of the British Jesuits.

Fr Campbell-Johnston spent many years as a priest in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. The church there was persecuted by a western-supported military dictatorship – responsible for the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980, six Jesuits, two US nuns and many other Christian leaders.

Jesuit provincial
He recounts how, during a visit to the order’s social institutes in Latin America in 1977, he met Fr Bergoglio. The Argentinian had been Jesuit provincial for Argentina 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 criticised 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, Fr 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,” Fr Campbell-Johnston reports.