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Did Pope Francis collaborate with the Argentine junta?

David Austin Walsh is the editor of the History News Network.

Pope Francis in Rome on March 13, 2013. Credit: Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk

UPDATE: In an email to HNN, James P. Brennan, a professor of history at the University of California, Riverside who is currently working on on a research project about the "Dirty War," cautioned against rushing to judgments about the new pope's record with the military junta. "[Journalist Horacio Verbitsky] is the sole source of [the] accusation [about concealing prisoners from human rights officials], which has yet to be verified by other credible sources such as human rights organizations in Argentina."

In other developments, Sam Ferguson, a visiting fellow at the Schell Center for International Human Rights at Yale Law School, has an article in The New Republic in which he summarizes the 2010 testimony of then-Cardinal Bergoglio over the allegations he collaborated with the Argentine military junta. Ferguson does not draw any conclusions, noting both that some of Bergoglio's answers under examination were inconsistent (he claimed Yorio never blamed him for his incarceration, but Yorio had been on the record as holding Bergoglio responsible for years) but that Nobel Peace Prize winner and victim of the regime Adolfo Perez Esquivel told the BBC Bergoglio "was not an accomplice of the dictatorship" and Robert Cox, former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald who was forced into exile in 1979 for reporting on disappeared persons,  said that "as much as he could, behind the scenes."

* * * * *

Horacio Verbitsky, a noted Argentinean journalist, alleged in his 2005 book El Silenco that Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who has just been elected Pope Francis I, collaborated with the Argentinian military regime in concealing political prisoners from the Inter-American Human Rights Commission. Hugh O'Shaughnessy reported on the Roman Catholic Church's close relationship with the Argentinean military regime for the Guardian in 2011.

Bergoglio has also been accused of aiding the regime in asserting its control over the clergy. From PolicyMic:

In 2005, a human rights lawyer filed a criminal complaint against Bergoglio, accusing him of conspiring with the junta in 1976 to kidnap two Jesuit priests, whom he, as superior of the Society of Jesus of Argentina in 1976, had asked to leave their pastoral work following conflict within the Society over how to respond to the new military dictatorship, with some priests advocating a violent overthrow. Bergoglio's spokesman has flatly denied the allegations. No evidence was presented linking the cardinal to this crime.

A spokesman for Bergolgio called the the accusation "old slander."

The priests, Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics, were kidnapped by the Argentine Navy in May 1976 and held for five months before being released -- by being dumped drugged and dazed into an open field.

Yorio and Jalics were targeted by the right-wing Argentine military junta that governed the country from 1976 to 1983 because of their advocacy of liberation theology, a controversial movement within the Roman Catholic Church which emphasized political, economic, and social justice.

Critics both inside and outside the Chuch -- including then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI -- claimed that the movement was tinged with Marxism.

Bergoglio, for his part, has claimed he protected those he could from the regime, including Yorio and Jalics. From the AP:

Both men were freed after Bergoglio took extraordinary, behind-the-scenes action to save them — including persuading dictator Jorge Videla's family priest to call in sick so that he could say Mass in the junta leader's home, where he privately appealed for mercy. His intervention likely saved their lives, but Bergoglio never shared the details until [his biographier Sergio Rubin] interviewed him for the 2010 biography.

Bergoglio — who ran Argentina's Jesuit order during the dictatorship — told Rubin that he regularly hid people on church property during the dictatorship, and once gave his identity papers to a man with similar features, enabling him to escape across the border. But all this was done in secret, at a time when church leaders publicly endorsed the junta and called on Catholics to restore their "love for country" despite the terror in the streets.

Anger has been brewing about the Church's failure to confront a regime which killed tens of thousands of its own citizens during the "Dirty War" against communist insurgencies during the 1970s.

The Argentine Church issued a collective apology in 2012 for the lack of confrontation with the dictatorship. "We know there are deep open wounds among many families after the kidnapping, seizing, or the disappearance of a loved one... We share everyone's pain and once again ask the forgiveness of everyone we failed or didn't support as we should have."

Updated 4:53pm 3-14-13