BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- A Jesuit priest whose kidnapping by the Argentine military in 1976 has raised the issue of what role newly named Pope Francis played in that country’s so-called “dirty war” said Friday that he was “reconciled to the events” and wished the pope well, but he did not explicitly absolve the pope of involvement in his detention.
In a statement posted on a website in Germany, where the Rev. Francisco Jalics now lives, Jalics recounted the details of his detention, saying he was held for five months, blindfolded and shackled. At the time, the pope, then the Rev. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was Jalics’ Jesuit superior.
“I’m unable to comment on the role of Father Bergoglio in this matter,” the statement said.
Jalics’ comments were posted on the same day the Vatican angrily denounced news coverage linking Pope Francis to the dirty war, calling the reports a campaign that “is well-known and dates back to many years ago.”
The Vatican said the campaign is being pushed “by a publication that carries out sometimes slanderous and defamatory campaigns,” an apparent reference to Pagina 12, an Argentine newspaper whose editor, Horacio Verbitsky, has written critically of Pope Francis’ role in the dirty war.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said there “was never a concrete or credible accusation” against Bergoglio, noting he “was questioned by an Argentinian court as someone aware of the situation but never as a defendant.”
On the contrary, “there have been many declarations demonstrating how much Bergoglio did to protect many persons at the time of the military dictatorship,” Lombardi said.
Jalics’ statement, however, seemed likely only to fuel speculation about Pope Francis and the dirty war, when as many as 30,000 people, most suspected leftists, disappeared into military custody, many never to be seen again. Argentines remain divided, with many, such as Nobel Peace Prize laureate Adolfo Perez Esquivel defending the pope, while others say he was an accomplice.
Estela de Carlotto, the 82-year-old head of the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, who for years has led the search for babies stolen from pregnant mothers in detention sites, said Friday that Bergoglio "knew what was happening but didn’t do anything."
"We don’t think he’s a criminal," Carlotto said, "but he’s complicit by omission."
Perez Esquivel, whose Nobel in 1980 came for his work defending human rights, adamantly defended Bergoglio in an interview with the BBC. Although some in the church were “complicit with the dictatorship, Bergoglio wasn’t one of them,” he said.
Efforts to reach Jalics were unsuccessful. German broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk reported that he was on a multi-month tour of Hungary and would not return to Germany until May.
Jalics’ fellow Jesuit, the Rev. Orlando Yorio, who died in 2000, reportedly held Bergoglio personally responsible for their kidnapping. Verbitsky took the accusation further, accusing Bergoglio in a 2005 book of failing to protect the Jesuit priests who worked in the slums.
According to Verbitsky, Bergoglio, who was the head of the Jesuit order in the country at the time, ordered Jalics and Yorio to stop their social work in the slums after the military junta took power. When they refused, Bergoglio allegedly let the military know they were no longer under the protection of the Jesuits, essentially giving a carte blanche for their kidnapping, according to Verbitsky.