(BUENOS AIRES) — Human rights activists say Pope Francis, formerly Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio, may have turned a blind eye to some atrocities, then later denied knowing about those atrocities despite his own testimony to the contrary and that ultimately as head of the Catholic church in Argentina, he did little to open the church’s archives to reveal the truth about its complicity.
The testimony of Argentine war criminals in tribunals showed that Catholic priests and chaplains played a central role in the torture and murder of dissidents by blessing torture chambers and absolving troops of their sins after they had thrown dozens of bound and drugged dissidents from a plane into the Rio de la Plata.
There were also allegations that Father Bergoglio knew where two of his Jesuit priests were held and tortured for five months by the junta, but did little to help them.
On Friday, Rev. Federico Lombardi rejected all those charges, saying instead that “there have been many declarations of how much he did for many people to protect them from the military dictatorship.”
Pope Francis has never been implicated directly in any actions, but many in Argentina who support him, including 1980 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Adolfo Perez Esquivel, said that “he was not complicit in the dictatorship but he lacked courage to accompany us in our struggle.”
The controversy has dogged Pope Francis throughout his entire career. As late as 2010, in a case brought against the church, he was grilled by attorney Myriam Bregman about what he knew about the eradication of almost the entire the de la Cuarda family.
Another human-rights attorney, Luis Zamora, questioned then Cardinal Bergoglio about the existence of church records that among aspects could potentially help reunite missing children with their actual families.
“Zamoro; Does any archive exist in the CEA (Episcopal Conference of Argentina) Bergoglio: I suppose yes, but I don’t know Zamoro: is that archive under your jurisdiction Bergoglio: The Central Archive of the CEA is under the jurisdiction of the CEA Zamoro: And who presides over the CEA? Bergoglio: I do”
Bergoglio said he would possibly look into the records, but the Catholic Church has yet to hand over any documents about their role in the Dirty War.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Emanuella Grinberg, CNN
Steve Almasy, CNN
David Mark, CNN Newswire
Faith Karimi and Chuck Johnston, CNN