Pontiff haunted by allegations of human rights abuses back home
Pope Francis is one of Argentina's most divisive Catholic leaders in decades – loved by many because of his humility, but detested by others who claim he hides a dark past, according to his biggest critics.
While he was viewed as an archbishop of the people – who would eat alongside the poor in Buenos Aires' biggest slum – accusations that he participated in the human rights abuses of the 1976-1983 military dictatorship taint Pope Francis's reputation.
In an article in 2006 which he tweeted yesterday, Horacio Verbitsky, a prominent Argentinian investigative journalist and one-time leftist guerrilla, said of the new Pope: "Bergoglio is the most overwhelming and conflicting personality of the Argentine church in decades, equally loved and detested. . .
"Depending on the source, he's either the most generous and intelligent man who ever said Mass in the country or a Machiavellian felon who betrayed his brothers and had them disappeared and tortured by the military in the name of an insatiable ambition."
Human rights group HIJOS, which represents children of the estimated 30,000 people kidnapped and murdered by that regime, yesterday renewed claims he was complicit in stealing victims' babies and turned in priests, who were tortured.
The longest-standing accusation against Pope Francis is that in 1976, as a high-ranking official in Argentina's Jesuits, he allowed two priests to be kidnapped.
Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics were taken to ESMA, an infamous Buenos Aires detention centre, where they remained for five months.
In his book 'The Silence', Verbitsky alleges that Yorio and Jalics refused to stop working in a Buenos Aires slum.
Subsequently Pope Francis stopped protecting them from the military and paved the way for their capture.
He, however, has denied the allegations and no charges have ever been brought.
"Yorio and Jalics were kidnapped in a raid," Pope Francis told his biographer, Sergio Rubin. "That same night I found out and I started to act. I didn't throw them out of the church and I didn't want them to be unprotected."
Adolfo Perez Ezquiel, the Nobel peace-prize winning human rights activist, who was detained by the dictatorship, said Pope Francis, like many clerics of the time, may not have spoken out but could not be accused of being complicit in its crimes.
Others praised him for coming to the rescue of members of the church who were being hunted by the regime.
"He helped the persecuted," Toberto Musante, a Salesian who knew Bergoglio in the 1970s, told 'La Nacion' newspaper. "He took in church students when the dictatorship started threatening people and priests in (the northern) La Rioja province."
Rubin also claims Pope Francis regularly hid people on church property and gave his identity papers to a man so he could escape across the border.
Former judge Alicia Oliveira, who rose to become the Secretary of Nestor Kirchner's Human Rights Ministry, told 'Clarin' newspaper that she had known Jorge Bergoglio for more than 40 years. She said he was fully involved in the protection of those persecuted by the regime and always attended the farewell suppers for those fleeing the country.
When she came to the attention of the military authorities, she was ejected from her position as criminal judge and persecuted. "After they fired me, Jorge sent me a marvellous bunch of roses to cheer me up," she said.
But the accusations of human rights abuses haunt his past.
Estela de la Cuadra, the sister of Elena de la Cuadra who was pregnant when she was kidnapped in 1977, claims Francis lied in a statement during a trial which put the military dictators in the dock for their crimes. He claimed he only found out that victims' babies had been 'stolen' after the dictatorship ended.
Mrs de la Cuadra claims there are documents from 1979 showing he had knowledge of her sister's case. The baby was born in captivity and given away. (© Daily Telegraph, London)