The Vatican has strongly denied claims that Pope Francis did too little to protect the victims of Argentina’s military dictatorship. One priest who the pope is accused of betraying says he is “reconciled with the past.”
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi issued a firm rebuttal to accusations that the pope failed to protect priests during Argentina's 1976 to 1983 "dirty war."
"The accusations come from parts of the anti-clerical left to attack the Church and must be denied," said Lombardi. The spokesman insisted that the pope "did a lot to protect people during the dictatorship."
Lombardi said the accusations were part of a "well-known" campaign targeting the pope and aimed at discrediting the church.
Bergoglio has denied any involvement in the priests' detention, insisting that he had, in fact, pleaded on behalf of the pair with the then head of the junta, Jorge Videla. The two priests were handcuffed and blindfolded while in custody at the notorious Navy Mechanics School, which was used as a clandestine prison and torture center. The pair were released after five months.
Warning over work with poor
The pope has said that he had warned the priests over the dangers of their work with the poor, which the junta believed made them potential agitators. The allegations were written about extensively in Argentina's Pagina12 newspaper by journalist Horacio Verbitzky.
One of the two priests, Francisco Jalics, said in a Friday statement that he could take no position on what the role of the pope had been in his arrest. Jalics - who now lives in a monastery in southern Germany - said that, long after his detention, he had met the Bergoglio to celebrate mass.
"After our release I left Argentina. Only years later we had the opportunity to discuss the events with Father Bergoglio, who in the meantime had been named archbishop of Buenos Aires," said Jalics.
"We embraced each other warmly. I am reconciled with the events and, for my part, consider them finished. I wish Pope Francis God's rich blessings for his office."
The Vatican statement came after Francis had paid tribute to his predecessor Benedict XVI at a meeting with cardinals in Rome.
rc/pfd (AP, dpa, Reuters)