From 1976 until 1983, Argentina was governed by a series of US-backed military dictators
who ruled with iron fists and crushed the regime’s opponents, many of them students, trade unionists, journalists and leftists. Kidnapping, torture
, murder by death squads
characterized this brutal ‘Dirty War,’ and many of the leading perpetrators
, including two junta leaders and the military dictator Gen. Leopoldo Galtieri
, were trained by the United States in kidnapping, torture, assassination and democracy suppression at the School of the Americas in Panama. As many as 30,000 people
were killed or disappeared during this horrific period, and many children and babies were stolen
from parents imprisoned in concentration camps or murdered by the regime.
During this harrowing period, the Argentine Catholic church was shamefully silent in the face of horrific atrocities. Argentine priests offered communion and support to the perpetrators of these crimes, even after the execution of two bishops, including Enrique Angelelli, and numerous priests. Worse, leading church figures were complicit in the regime’s abuses. One priest, Father Christian von Wernich, was a former police chaplain later sentenced to life in prison for involvement in seven murders, 42 kidnappings and 31 cases of torture during the ‘Dirty War.’ At his trial, witnesses testified how the priest used his position to gain their trust before passing information to police, who tortured victims– sometimes in von Wernich’s presence– and sometimes killed them.
Senior military commanders who justified the regime’s appalling practice of dumping drugged and tortured ‘Dirty War’ prisoners into the sea from airplanes, known as ‘death flights,’ told participants that the Church sanctioned the missions as “a Christian form of death.”
“We have much to be sorry for,” Father Ruben Captianio told the New York Times in 2007. “The attitude of the Church was scandalously close to the dictatorship to such an extent that I would say it was of a sinful degree.”
So exactly what role did Jorge Bergoglio play in his country’s brutal seven-year military dictatorship?
A 1995 lawsuit filed by a human rights lawyer alleges that Bergoglio, who was leading the local Jesuit community by the time the military junta seized power in 1976, was involved in the kidnapping of two of his fellow Jesuit priests, Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics, who were tortured by navy personnel before being dumped in a field, drugged and semi-naked, five months later.
At the time, Bergoglio was the superior in the Society of Jesus of Argentina. According to El Silencio (Silence), a book by Horacio Verbitsky, one of Argentina’s most respected investigative journalists, Bergoglio urged the two priests, who were strong believers in liberation theology, to stop visiting Buenos Aires slums where they worked to improve the lives of some of the country’s poorest people. After the priests refused, Bergoglio allegedly stopped protecting them, leading to their arrest and torture. According to the Associated Press, Yorio accused Bergoglio of “effectively handing [the priests] over to death squads.”
Despite his alleged role in the Jesuits’ imprisonment, Bergoglio did eventually take action to secure their release. His intervention and appeal to the vicious junta leader Jorge Videla quite likely saved their lives.
But that wasn’t the only time Bergoglio allegedly cooperated with the regime. According to Verbitsky, he also hid political prisoners from a delegation of visiting international monitors from the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.
Bergoglio was also silent in the wake of Father Angelelli’s assassination, even as other leading Argentine clergy condemned the murder. He was quick, however, to hail the slain priest as a “martyr” years later in more democratic times….”