Dublin priest says Pope criticism “unfair”

Bergoglio did all he could to help when priests kidnapped in Argentina, says cleric

Pope Francis, then, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires at the Basilica de Lujan, west of the Argentine capital in 2009. Photograph: Alfredo Martinez/Clarin via The New York Times

Pope Francis, then, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires at the Basilica de Lujan, west of the Argentine capital in 2009. Photograph: Alfredo Martinez/Clarin via The New York Times

 

An Irish priest who worked under Pope Francis in Argentina has said allegations that he did not do enough to help victims of the military junta were “unfair”.

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

Fr John O’Connor, now parish priest of Shankill, worked in Buenos Aires from 1973 for 31 years. He says the new Pope, his superior at that time, was “wonderful at defending priests”.

Not yet a bishop at the time of the kidnappings, Fr O’Connor said of Fr Bergoglio: “Was there anything he could have done, number one, and what did he actually do? What he could have done is speak out and look for them and according to him, that’s what he did.”

Appointed Archbishop Bergoglio in 1998, Fr O’Connor said, “He was extremely supportive of priests of his diocese…he was extremely forthright and stood up to the drug barons and anybody who put priest’s lives in danger”.

In 2001 Fr O’Connor invited Archbishop Bergoglio to celebrate the 25th anniversary Mass of three priests and two students killed by the military in the same year the two priests were kidnapped. In his sermon, a copy of which Fr O’Connor retains, Archbishop Bergoglio referred to the victims as “martyrs”.

“Most of the bishops would be very diplomatic and very careful about what they said. Bergoglio on the other hand was very forthright in his condemnation of what happened.

“Most of the bishops were very much with the establishment, whether it be the military dictatorship or the democratic government.”

Fr O’Connor said Archbiship Bergoglio was, “definitely a breath of fresh air,” and a “very simple, very unassuming” man who wanted separation between Church and State.