By Dario Thuburn | AFP
ROME, Italy – Pope Francis was “not complicit” with Argentina’s brutal military dictatorship and pursued a “silent diplomacy,” Nobel peace laureate Adolfo Pérez Esquivel said on Thursday, following criticism the pontiff had failed to speak out.
“He was not complicit with the dictatorship, he did not collaborate,” the Argentine Pérez Esquivel said after meeting with Latin America’s first pope.
The pope, Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio at the time, was head of the powerful Jesuit order in Argentina during the 1976-1983 regime.
“He preferred a silent diplomacy, inquiring about the disappeared and the prisoners,” said the prominent human rights activist who campaigned against the junta and won the Nobel Prize in 1980.
“The pope had nothing to do with the dictatorship,” he added, saying the justice system had found “no proof” of any collaboration.
“In the Argentinian Catholic hierarchy there were some bishops complicit with the dictatorship, but Bergoglio was not one of them,” he told reporters, referring to 76-year-old Francis’s name before he became pope.
Pérez Esquivel said he and the pope had discussed human rights and that the pontiff had called for “truth, justice and compensation.”
He said the meeting had been “very emotional.”
The Vatican last week rejected claims that the pope failed to do enough to protect two priests tortured during Argentina’s “Dirty War,” in which 30,000 people were killed or disappeared.
Argentinian investigative journalist Horacio Verbitsky has criticized the pope for his role, as has the famous Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo organization, founded in 1977 to help locate children kidnapped during the military era.
The head of the association, Estela Carlotto, said the pope “has never spoken of the problem of people who had disappeared under dictatorial rule.”
Leftist critics in Argentina have also accused him of being responsible for the arrest of two young Jesuit priests, Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics, who were taken to a notorious torture center run by the right-wing junta.
The Vatican said the “defamatory” and “anti-clerical” claims were aimed at discrediting the Church, while the president of Argentina’s Supreme Court also stressed that there has never been any evidence or charge against Bergoglio.
Bergoglio himself has always denied any involvement in the case, and even says he intervened with the head of the junta, Jorge Videla, to beg for the Jesuits to be freed. The two priests were released after five months.
Jalics, who now lives in Germany, said in a statement posted on the German website of the Jesuit order, that he and Yorio were not reported to the authorities by Bergoglio.
“It is false to claim that our arrest was provoked by Father Bergoglio,” he said.
“I myself formerly tended to believe that we were reported. At the end of the 1990s, however, it became clear to me after numerous conversations that this assumption was baseless,” Jalics said.
Jalics said that after his arrest, the officer questioning him had asked for his identification papers and taken him for a Russian spy on seeing he had been born in the Hungarian capital Budapest.
It also emerged earlier this week that two Catholic priests and a layman murdered during the regime are being considered for sainthood under a process launched by Bergoglio when he was the archbishop of Buenos Aires.
The men – Franciscan friars Carlos de Dios Murias and Gabriel Longueville, and layman Wenceslao Pedernera – were killed in 1976.
The priests’ bullet-riddled bodies were found in the province of La Rioja, 1,200 kilometers (746 miles) northwest of Buenos Aires, where they had been assisting poor rural settlers.