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Pope Francis dogged by polemic ties to military junta

March 13, 2013

Jorge Bergoglio, who became the first Latin American Pope on Wednesday, has long faced accusations of collaborating with the military junta that ruled Argentina with an iron fist from 1976 to 1983.

In 2011, the French justice system sent a warrant to the Argentine authorities requesting that Bergoglio testify at an investigation into the case of French priests Gabriel Longueville and Carlos Murias, who were kidnapped, tortured and murdered in Argentina in 1976.

Bergoglio had faced similar accusations in 2005, when a human rights lawyer filed a criminal complaint accusing him of involvement in the 1976 kidnapping of Jesuit priests Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics. After five months in captivity, the pair were found alive, drugged and semi-nude, and Yorio later accused Bergoglio of effectively handing them over to military death squads by declining to tell the regime that he endorsed their work.

However, supporters of Bergoglio say he maintained close ties to the junta in order to lessen the damage down to the Argentine people. In an interview with biographer Sergio Rubin, Bergoglio said he secured the release of Yorio and Jalics by persuading dictator Jorge Videla’s family priest to call in sick so that he could say Mass in Videla’s home and make a private plea for mercy.

Further criticism of Bergoglio came from Argentine investigative journalist Horacio Verbitsky in his 2005 book “El Silencio.” Verbitsky alleged that Bergoglio aided the dictatorship by hiding political prisoners at his holiday home on an island in River Plate to prevent them being discovered by a visiting delegation of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.

Bergoglio has refuted such claims, maintaining that he regularly hid people on church property to protect them from the military and once gave his identity papers to a man with a similar appearance so that he could escape across the border.

Argentine federal news agency DERF has also reported that Bergoglio had been linked to the kidnapping and trafficking of babies in 1977. Such occurrences were common at the height of Argentina’s Dirty War, with the orphaned children of slain dissidents often sold off to the highest bidder.

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