Buenos Aires

Argentine court says pope didn't have junta ties

'Not suspected of complicity' during 1976-83 Dirty War regime

Argentine court says pope didn't have junta ties

(By Denis Greenan). Buenos Aires, March 18 - Argentine Supreme Court President Ricardo Lorenzetti said Monday that Pope Francis "is absolutely innocent" and was not suspected of being complicit in human rights violations committed during the 1976-83 military dictatorship there. Since the former archbishop of Buenos Aires Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elevated to the papacy on Wednesday, allegations have surfaced that he was complicit in violence carried out against left-wing activists and militants during his time as the Jesuit Provincial superior of Argentina. As many as 30,000 people are believed to have been killed or disappeared during the eight-year junta. In one particular case, accusers say then Jesuit superior Bergoglio allowed the military to kidnap two priests in his order whom he had dismissed just prior to their abduction. They were held and bound for several months before being drugged and dumped outside Buenos Aires. The Vatican has been quick to deny the allegations, and Francis has repeatedly disputed them over the years. In an autobiography Francis says he helped save several people during the dictatorship. "Apart from the fact that there are people who disagree, or who say he could have done one thing or another, the fact remains certain that there is not one concrete accusation" against him, said Lorenzetti in a radio interview. "We must respect the principle of innocence" with regard to "a man who has not been convicted of anything". The Supreme Court president is part of Argentina's official delegation in Rome to observe the inauguration of Francis's pontificate on Tuesday. On Friday', two days' after Francis' election, the Vatican was quick to try to slam the lid on the story, in contrast to previous occasions in which it has been slow to react. Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said Francis, while still a Jesuit priest in Buenos Aires, did a lot to protect the people during the so-called 'Dirty War'. "And once he became Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he asked for forgiveness for the Church for not doing enough during the dictatorship," Lombardi said. Articles critical of the pope's alleged inaction during his home country's dictatorship years appeared soon after his election in papers ranging from the New York Times to Spain's El Mundo and Argentina's Pagina 12. "There has never been a credible accusation against him," said Lombardi. "Attacks from certain Argentine papers (against the pope) are from an anticlerical left...and should be categorically rejected," he said. Australia Cardinal George Pell said in an interview with ABC radio that the controversy over the role of Pope Francis during Argentina's brutal military dictatorship in the late 1970s was simply "a smear and lie". "Stories have been dismissed years and years ago," he said. "Amnesty International at the time said those charges were completely false. They were...laid to rest years ago". One of the two priests imprisoned and tortured under junta leader Jorge Videla sought on Friday to lay to rest the questions swirling around what role Pope Francis may have played. "I have come to terms with those events and for me that story is over," wrote Father Franz Jalics. "I cannot take any position with respect to the role of Jorge Mario Bergoglio," Jalics continued referring Francis's birth name. But he added: "I wish Pope Francis a rich blessing from God for his office". Jalics described what happened to him in a statement posted on the German Jesuit website jesuiten.org. The other priest working in Buenos Aires' slums at the time, Orlando Yorio, has since died.

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