A whole lot of discussion happening today over Argentina’s “Dirty War” and the level of involvement that Bishop Bergoglio/Pope Francis had in resisting and/or collaborating with it. Into the midst of this debate comes an extraordinary article at the New Republic by Sam Ferguson, a visiting fellow at the Schell Center for International Human Rights at Yale Law School and a former Fulbright Scholar. Alone among the reports I have seen, Ferguson has gained access to the transcript of Bergoglio’s testimony “as a witness in the criminal trial of eighteen officers who had worked at the notorious Naval Mechanics School, where the country's military junta detained political prisoners—including a pair of Jesuit priests who'd been kidnapped shortly after the regime took power in a 1976 coup.”
Ferguson’s summary of Bergoglio’s testimony is an important contribution to the story. He includes a quote from Argentine Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel, who was jailed and tortured by the Argentine dictatorship. Esquivil says Bergoglio "was not an accomplice of the dictatorship. … There were bishops who were accomplices of the Argentine dictatorship, but not Bergoglio." Others are not so sure. Luis Zamora, the human rights lawyer who questioned Bergoglio during his four hour testimony, believes Bergoglio “’completely failed’ in his explanation of the past. He added that those who say Bergoglio was an insignificant figure in the Church at the time are mistaken, as evidenced by his ability to arrange meetings with…the country's two most powerful military men.”
These issues are not simple to understand or to judge. As Eduardo Penalver said in a post at Commonweal: “we can probably look forward to a steady stream of articles on this issue in the coming weeks and months.” Hopefully they will be as informed and judicious as Ferguson’s essay.
An a significant development to the story one of the two Jesuit priests who'd been kidnapped, Rev. Francisco Jalics, has spoken for the first time publicly about the incident and in a way that supports Bergoglio's testimony. From the Associated Press' moving story:
BY DAVID RISING
BERLIN -- A Jesuit priest whose kidnapping by the Argentine military junta decades ago led to strong criticism of the newly elected pope said Friday that he and the pontiff have reconciled.
The Rev. Francisco Jalics, who now lives in a monastery in southern Germany, said in a statement that he had talked with the Rev. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who was named Pope Francis on Wednesday, long after the 1976 kidnapping of himself and fellow slum priest Orlando Yorio.
Bergoglio has said he told the priests to give up their slum work for their own safety, and they refused. Yorio, who is now dead, later accused Bergoglio of effectively delivering them to the death squads by declining to publicly endorse their work.
"It was only years later that we had the opportunity to talk with Father Bergoglio ... to discuss the events," Jalics said Friday in his first known comments about the kidnapping, which occurred when the new pope was the leader of Argentina's Jesuits.
"Following that, we celebrated Mass publicly together and hugged solemnly. I am reconciled to the events and consider the matter to be closed," he said...
Jalics, in his mid-80s, is currently out of Germany and could not be reached for comment beyond the statement. But Thomas Busch, a spokesman for the Jesuits in Munich, said the conversation between Jalics and Bergoglio took place in the year 2000.
In his statement, which was posted on the German Jesuits' website, Jalics did not elaborate on what the two talked about regarding the kidnapping.
"I cannot comment on the role of Father Bergoglio in these events," he said.
But he added: "I wish Pope Francis God's rich blessings for his office."
Commonweal has published a very helpful summary of the story of the two priests, offering needed context and an informed judgment in Bergoglio's favor. Here is key excerpt: