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More on Bergoglio and the Dirty War

With his permission, I'm posting this (extensive) comment by Charles Kenney (Professor of Political Science University of Oklahoma, specializing in Latin America), which appeared in the thread of my last post, because it brings together more detail and context on the Bergoglio, Dirty War issue than I've seen reported in any one place. I do also want to highlight a disagreement on a few of these points in this post by Fr. Thomas Reese. I'm not sure how consequential some of those disagreements are to the gravest questions raised, but they are worth keeping in mind. In any event, I thought Prof. Kenney's summary might provide a useful starting point for further discussion. Prof. Kenney's comment appears in full after the jump:UPDATE: I've updated the post to include an image of a government document that Prof. Kenney translates in his comment. The document lends support to Prof. Kenney's version of the passport story over certain elements of Fr. Reese's interpretation of that episode (while Fr. Reese says Bergoglio was trying to convince the government to extend the priest's passport, the document suggests that Bergoglio actually recommended that the passport not be extended). In addition, here is an article from New Republic with additional detail based on Bergoglio's testimony before an Argentine tribunal.

An unlikely St. Patricks message (see St. Patricks Massacre below)My take on the question of Bergoglios responsibilities during the Dirty War in Argentina:Fr. Jorge Bergoglio, SJ, now Pope Francis, was a young provincial (36 when appointed, 39 when the coup took place), the context was volatile, the two priests, Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics, did not obey his demand that they leave the poor neighborhood where they worked and one or both asked to leave the Jesuits and join a diocese under a tolerant bishop.The Argentine Church leadership, with a few notable exceptions, behaved abominably. They gave public recognition and support to the military dictatorship for years. They gave almost no public recognition or support to the victims and their families. Several priests played central roles in the detention, torture, and murder of suspected dissidents, and justified this in religious terms. Only a few bishops defended the human rights of the disappeared and supported organizations like the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. One priest, Christian von Wernach, is presently serving a life sentence for his role, while others have been accused but not yet put on trial.In this context, Bergoglio would have to have been heroic to speak out. He did not.The fear of Communism was both rational and irrational, and it led the military, civilians, and many within the Church to fear those among them who might be "subversive" and they allowed this fear to justify some of the most cruel and brutal treatment to which human beings have subjected other human beings in the Americas in the last half century.This is not about comparing evils, as if the evil done by Communist regimes could somehow justify the evil done in the name of anti-Communism.There were Catholics and ex-Catholics, some priests, who participated in or were strongly linked to some of the leftist groups who were carrying out assassinations and bomb attacks. There were many more Catholics committed to the poor who were not in any way involved in violent actions.The regime tended to see anyone who worked with the poor or who defended human rights as subversive, either because they were directly participating in the violence or because their teaching of the Gospel provided ideological justification for leftist positions, violent or not.Of what, to my understanding, is Bergoglio accused?1. Bergoglio is accused of believing that either or both Fr. Orlando Yorio, SJ and Fr. Francisco Jalics, SJ, were dangerous subversives and of communicating this belief to many others in a way that facilitated their arrest. Released after five months, Yorio and Jalics told others in person and in letters that they thought Bergoglio was responsible for their arrest and that he had told others that Yorio and Jalics were involved with the guerrillas. Other Jesuits told Yorio and Jalics that Bergoglio was responsible. The priests' beliefs are not evidence that Bergolio facilitated their arrest, but this does show that they thought the accusation highly credible.2. Bergoglio is accused of withdrawing his protection from Yorio and Jalics before they were arrested. After much discussion and debate, Bergoglio gave them a letter ordering them to leave the community they were serving within 15 days; Jalics was to be transferred to Germany. Bergoglio told them that their only alternative to leaving the community was to leave the Jesuits. Yorio indicated in writing on March 19 that this was his intention, but also said he never received a response. Until his arrest he thought he was still a Jesuit and still communicated intensely with Bergoglio. Only after his release and exile in Rome did he find out that Bergoglio had expelled them from the Jesuit Order shortly before their arrest.An important note about the context: Yorio and Jalics went to work in a poor neighborhood in 1974 during a time in which there was an elected government, but there were also armed organizations carrying out assassinations and bombings on both the left and the right. In 1973, one of the people who had worked with Yorio and Jalics in the neighborhood left and joined one of the leftist guerrilla groups and had no more contact with Yorio and Jalics.The Argentine military coup took place on March 26, 1976, shortly after Yorio wrote to Bergoglio asking to leave the Jesuits. After the coup, the person who joined the guerrillas was captured and interrogated. It emerged that he had once worked in the neighborhood with Yorio and Jalics. On May 14 five catechists (and two of their husbands) who worked with Yorio and Jalics were arrested and eventually murdered by the regime without it ever acknowledging that it held them. One of these catechists was Mnica Mignone, the daughter of former Education Minister and Catholic activist Emilio Mignone.If Bergoglio withdrew his protection, he did so knowing what risks the priests were facing. After their arrest, Yorio and Jalics were interrogated extensively about the catechists. Neither the priests nor any of the seven arrested the week before the priests were ever found to be involved with the guerrillas. None of the seven was ever seen again.3. Bergoglio is accused of blocking the efforts of a sympathetic bishop to receive Yorio and Jalics. The bishop reportedly told others that he was fearful for their lives and sought to protect them, but that even after personally meeting with Bergoglio to plead his case Bergoglio did not cede. As I try to make sense of this accusation, I try to **imagine** that the two priests were seen by Bergoglio as something like "dangerous communist terrorists," or, to make the point in a different way, as dangerous pedophiles. One could imagine why, as a matter of principle, the Jesuit Superior was unwilling to let them go to another diocese--if indeed it is true that he blocked their way. If this happened, perhaps it could be justified, perhaps not, but it is another part of the reason that Bergoglio is accused of contributing to the priests' arrest.After arrest, Yorio and Jalics were taken to the ESMA (Escuela Superior de Mecnica de la Armada or Naval Petty Officers School of Mechanics), which became infamous as a detention and torture center from which many hundreds were taken and killed by drugging them, putting them in airplanes, and dropping them into the ocean so that their bodies would never be found. The two priests were manacled and not allowed to move or use the bathroom for five days while they were interrogated. While this was a form of torture, they were not subjected to electric shock and the other harsher tortures that were systematic under the regime. Unlike more than a thousand of those who were taken to ESMA, Yorio and Jalics survived. They were taken after five days to another location and held, manacled and blindfolded, for five more months before being dumped on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, alive. Yorio was sent to Rome and Jalics to Germany.4. Bergoglio is accused of having presented to the regime a written petition to renew the passport for Fr. Jalics on December 4, 1979, while Jalics was in Germany and for fear of his life could not return to Argentina. The written petition supports Jalics' request and carries Bergoglio's signature. Another document was found attached to the first. It states that Jalics' passport should not be renewed, and carries the signature of a government official.There is a third document attached that states the following (this is translated from the original scanned document uploaded by Verbitsky to the Pgina 12 website):Father Francisco Jalics:

  • Dissolute activity in the women's religious congregations (Conflicts of obedience)
  • Detained in the Naval Mechanical School 5/24/76 [- ] XI/76 (6 months), accused with Fr. Yorio

Suspected of guerrilla contacts

  • They lived in a small community that the Jesuit Superior dissolved in February 1976 and they refused to obey, requesting that they be allowed to leave the Jesuits on March 19; the 2 were expelled, [but] Fr. Jalics not because he had solemn vows.

No Bishop in Greater Buenos Aires wanted to receive them.NB: this information was furnished to Mr. Orgoyen [the government official handling the passport renewal request] by Fr. Bergoglio himself, the signer of the original petition, with special recommendation that the petition not be granted."[Below this is the signature of Orgoyen, the government official.] other words, Bergoglio is accused of having acting visibly and in writing to support Fr. Jalics' petition, and of having acted invisibly and not in writing to undermine his request. He is accused of making numerous charges against Jalics, including that he was in contact with the guerrillas.5. Bergoglio is accused of publishing Church documents in a book regarding the period of the Dirty War, emphasizing that they were published "without omissions." The original of at least one of the documents was subsequently found and it was seen that the published version in fact omitted text that revealed much greater complicity by the Church with the regime than the published version. My understanding is that the original version has been published, but I have not seen it.6. Bergoglio is accused of claiming that he and other Church leaders were unaware of certain thingsthat detainees were being tortured, that detainees were being murdered and disappeared without trial or acknowledgement of their detention; that babies born to detained (and soon to be disappeared) women were being given in adoption to military and police familiesduring periods when documents exist demonstrating that he and others discussed and knew about these things.7. Bergoglio is NOT accused of having helped to hide detainees from an international human rights group's visit to the torture center by taking them to a summer retreat owned by the Church and used by the Cardinal. These events took place, but Bergoglio had no role, and Horacio Verbitsky (the journalist who wrote about this and who provided the evidence for many of the accusations made in points 1-6 above) says not only was Bergoglio not part of this, it was Bergoglio himself who helped Verbitsky find the evidence that proved the Church's connection to the incident.Yorio later returned to Argentina to serve in the Diocese of Quilmes and it was he who contacted Verbitsky to denounce Bergoglio. Yorio died in 2000. Jalics remains a Jesuit in Germany and is active giving lectures and leading spiritual exercises. When contacted by Verbitsky, he confirmed Yorio's denunciations and added his own information. He said, however, that he had forgiven Bergoglio and preferred not to revisit that painful period of his life, and did not want his name to appear in print. When contacted by a second journalist, he said he would neither confirm nor deny the allegations.According to an article published on Sunday, March 17, 2013 by Horacio Verbitsky in the Argentine newspaper Pgina 12, (I translate): Jalics has forgiven the evil they did to him. This says more about him than about Bergoglio. Jalics does not deny the events, which he narrated his 1994 book Meditation Exercises: Many people who had political convictions of the extreme right looked poorly on our presence in the slums. They interpreted the fact that we lived there as support for the guerrillas and they decided to denounce us as terrorists. We knew from where the wind blew and who was responsible for this slander. So I went to speak with the person in question and explained to him that he was playing with our lives. This man promised that he would make sure the military knew that we were not terrorists. Through later declarations by an officer and thirty documents that I was able to access we were later able to prove beyond a doubt that this man had not fulfilled his promise but that, on the contrary, he had presented a false accusation to the military.In another part of the book, he added that this person made credible the slander by virtue of his authority and testified before the officers who kidnapped us that we had worked on the scene of the terrorist action. Shortly before this I had told this person that he was playing with our lives. He should have understood that he was sending us to certain death with his declarations.Verbitsky continues:In a letter he wrote in Rome in November of 1977 to Fr. Moura, the Assistant General of the Jesuits, Orlando Yorio told the same story but replaced a person with Jorge Mario Bergoglio. recent days Jalics provided a written statement that has been translated. it Jalics says that he has become reconciled with the events that took place and that, for his part, he considers this a closed matter. He says he is unable to comment on the role played by Bergoglio in these events. He says he met once with Bergoglio in recent years, spoke about this, celebrated Mass together, and solemnly embraced.Note: this is not an exoneration by Jalics, as some have chosen to interpret it.Jalics also says that, with the permission of Bergoglio, he went with Yorio to live in the poor neighborhood, and that neither of them had any contact with the military junta or with the guerrillas. I think the inclusion of contact with the military junta may have been meant to draw a contrast with Bergoglio or with other members of the Church leadership. Jalics says that due to the lack of information and targeted misinformation at that point in time our position was open to misinterpretation within the church. He does not say who was the source of the targeted misinformation and he does not say who within the Church misinterpreted their position.Emilio Mignone, whose daughter Mnica was arrested a week before Yorio and Jalics, became a leader in the human rights movement in Argentina. He held that Bergoglio had responsibility in her disappearance. His colleague in the human rights movement, Alicia Oliveira, was Bergoglio's friend and knew of his efforts to help some of those persecuted by the regime, and defended him. Neither knew at the time of the "passport document" discovered only recently, which seems to show Bergoglio acting in defense of Fr. Jalics publicly while undermining and accusing him in secret.Nobel Prize winner Adolfo Prez Esquivel has said that Bergolgio was not one of those who were complicit with the regime, but that Bergoglio lacked the courage to defend those who were being tortured and murdered by the regime.I end with a little more context: in the early morning hours of Sunday, July 4, 1976, as the United States celebrated its bicentennial and six weeks after the arrest of Yorio and Jalics, a military death squad went to the parish house of San Patricio and murdered the three priests and two seminarians living there. When those coming to Mass that morning investigated, they found the five men lying face down on the floor in their pajamas in a pool of blood, riddled with bullets. This became known as the Masacre de San Patricio, or St. Patricks Massacre.The death squad left two written messages.One said: "for the comrades dynamited in the Federal Security building. We will win. Long live the fatherland."[This was a reference to a guerrilla bomb attack in the cafeteria at the Federal Security building that killed 20 police officers.]The other said: "These leftists died for being indoctrinators of virgin minds and for being MSTM," MSTM being the initials of the Movement of Priests for the Third World.The concern about Bergoglio's role cannot be understood while focusing only on two Jesuit priests who survived. It must be understood that Mnica Mignone and hundreds of lay Church activists like her were brutally tortured and murdered, being guilty of nothing more than serving the poor and thinking the wrong thoughts; that dozens of priests and religious were likewise murdered in Argentina for the same crimes, and that the murderers were praised and blessed for their work by still other priests and religious. These were the same crimes for which Jesuit Rutilio Grande would be murdered the following year in El Salvador, for which Archbishop Oscar Romero would be assassinated three years after that, and six more Jesuits, their housekeeper, and her daughter nine years after that. And so on.Bergoglio has said in the past that we should not focus on his public silence, but know that in private he sought to aid the persecuted. He does appear to have helped some of the persecuted, but if the documents uncovered regarding his assistance in getting Fr. Jalics' passport renewed are an indication of what he did in private, it appears that there may be still another, even more private level at which he acted, and for which he has much to answer.


Commenting Guidelines

"While in a perfect world, we would like to think that a future pope would have stood up to the junta, in the real world he did not, but rather, chose to act in a very human way. He did what he felt he could do without putting himself at too much risk."Based on what is being reported, I'm not prepared to damn him with this faint praise.

1) It's interesting that Pope Francis identifies Jorge Luis Borges, who also lived in Buenos Aires, as one of his favorite authors (along with Dostoevsky). Borges was also judged guilty of the crime of "not doing enough." Until "enough" is specified the charge is an apparently irresistibly cheap one and grossly irresponsible, IMHO.2) For those who want to make sure they are doing "enough" now here's a suggestion relevant to abuses from both leftist and rightist regimes:"Church-organized human-rights groups and justice-and-peace commissions became common features in Central America, Chile, and elsewhere in Latin America during the military dictatorships of the 1980s, and they were indispensable to advancing rights and freedoms. We need similar groups in many Middle Eastern, Asian, and African countries today. If the promise of Dignitatis Humanae is to be fulfilled, it is crucial that the laity be trained to document religious persecution and other human-rights abuses."

Jim Pauwels,It was not my intent to damn him and I hope it didn't come out that way. My view is that he was very human-- not evil, but not saintly. And that actually gives me some hope for this papacy.

"He did what he felt he could do without putting himself at too much risk.Or maybe he did what he thought was best for the safety of the entire Jesuit Community in Argentina and this was his primary responsibility.

Jim Dunn - I also have a lot of hope for this papacy, and I'm glad you're able to draw hope from these historical events.

"Thomas, Right click and click print."I think between the right click and "print" one has to click on "select all.""While in a perfect world, we would like to think that a future pope would have stood up to the junta, in the real world he did not, but rather, chose to act in a very human way. He did what he felt he could do without putting himself at too much risk."Pius XII redux?

Jim - there is no comparison between the events in Nazi Germany, Pius XII who was the Vatican agent who signed the Vatican-Germany concordat, and the years that built up to WWII and the Argentine dirty war and the role of Bergoglio over a small Jesuit province.BTW - the German concordat sold the German Democratic Party and most catholic bishops down the river in the name of Vatican politics. And this was years before any hint of the holocaust.Have you given any thought to the reality that Bergoglio may have wanted to keep his Jesuit priests from being aligned with either side but especially guerillas who were committing atrocities and thus weakening, if not destroying any credibility that he would have had as provincial?

Surely all of this matters greatly. As I understand it, the Catholic belief is that the Cardinals-Elector seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in selecting the Pope. Their discernment of the guidance of the Spirit then is a central issue.Perhaps the proper way to look at the Argentine situation in the 1970s comes from the choice of Francis of Assisi as an inspiration for the new Pope. Francis was one of a long line of the Churchs greatest human servants Paul, Augustine and Francis are known even to me - whom we remember as guidance in our lives not for their youth and early actions (quite the contrary), but for what they became. Those who have not had to work in time and place of war typically misunderstand what that involves, and how difficult it can be to return to the world ready and able to contribute positively. That is not an excuse for wrong actions in time of war, just a reminder that we are should be slow to judge.Were the Conclave to have selected a true fascist, a betrayer of his companions, we would have a terrible dilemma: how could the Holy Spirit have led the Electors in that path? If the Conclave, instead chose a man who has used the hard lessons of his youth to help him formulate a life of service and humility, an understanding of how the Church can serve in todays world, we (all Christians and indeed all people of good will) will celebrate the epiphany offered to, and discerned by, the Conclave in 2013.Mark

Gratitude to John Page, Gerelyn, Bill deHaas and many other commenters. The range of information is very helpful. Such a full airing of the record with comparisons of sources will hopefully resolve some questions. My faith in Pope Francis is sustained, though it is certainly instructive how the charges may be used. Someone mentioned too many "if's" and I agree.I am more and more convinced that Horatio Verbitsky, former member of the Montoneros guerilla group, publisher now of the newspaper Pagina 12, and inveterate critic of Pope Francis, lacks credibility. Argentine president Kirchners government is now pressuring merchants, under threat of reprisals, not to buy advertising in newspapers. The only newspapers that aren't on track to be financially ruined by this intimidation are those that the government controls and finances through official advertising, like Mr. Verbitsky's Pagina 12. Argentines refer to the paper as "the official gazette" because it so reliably prints the government's line. Intellectually honest observers with firsthand knowledge of Argentina under military rule (1976-1983) are telling a much different story than the one pushed by Mr. Verbitsky and his ilk. One of those observers is Adolfo Prez Esquivel, winner of the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize. Last week he told BBC Mundo that "there were bishops that were complicit with the dictatorship, but Bergoglio, no." As to the charge that the priest didn't do enough to free junta prisoners, Mr. Prez Esquivel said: "I know personally that many bishops who asked the military government for the liberation of prisoners and priests and it was not granted." Former Judge Alicia Oliveira, who was herself fired by the military government and forced into hiding to avoid arrest, told the Argentine newspaper Perfil last week that during those dark days she knew Father Bergoglio well and that "he helped many people get out of the country." In one case, she says there was a young man on the run who happened to look like the Jesuit. "He gave him his identification card and his [clergy attire] so that he could escape." Ms. Oliveira also told Perfil that when she was in hiding at the home of the current minister of security, Nilda Garr, the two of them "ate with Bergoglio." As Ms. Oliveira pointed out, Ms. Garr "therefore knows all that he did." Graciela Fernndez Meijide, a human-rights activist and former member of the national commission on the disappearance of persons, told the Argentine press last week that "of all the testimony I received, never did I receive any testimony that Bergoglio was connected to the dictatorship."

Carolyn, thank you for running this down so comprehensively!

For more context, there were articles yesterday about Francis supporting the canonization process for Franciscans killed in the Dirty Wars: at the Vatican Inside of La Stampa, says that Francis expressed a desire that these be the first people he beatifies, while other articles cite inaction by Bergoglio.As I understand it, the Jesuits were kidnapped in May 1976 and released 5 months later. The Franciscans were kidnapped in July 1976 and killed that day. Their bishop was forced off the road coming back from a service for the three victims, and killed. This bishop had a long history of involvement with unions and other groups promoting change in Argentina.

This may be too late, but is relevant:Priest kidnapped by junta: not denounced by pope"The fact is: Orlando Yorio and I were not denounced by Father Bergoglio."(Fr. Francisco) Jalics said "false information was spread" at the time that he and Yorio had gone to the slums because they were part of a guerrilla movement - and he suspects those rumors were the reason why the priests weren't freed immediately."I myself was once inclined to believe that we were the victims of a denunciation," Jalics said. But "at the end of the 90s, after numerous conversations, it became clear to me that this suspicion was unfounded. It is therefore wrong to assert that our capture took place at the initiative of Father Bergoglio."