The Vatican dismissed claims that Pope Francis played a direct role in the kidnappings of two Jesuit priests during Argentina’s murderous military dictatorship and described them as part of a campaign by “left-wing anti-clerical elements to attack the church.”
Then-Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the future pope, was head of the Jesuit province in the country from 1973 to ‘79, the height of the clandestine war that saw as many as 30,000 Argentines kidnapped, tortured, murder or disappeared, never to be seen again.
The future pope, in his years as a bishop, was involved in publicly asking forgiveness on behalf of the church in Argentina “for not having done enough at the time of the dictatorship.”
The church’s role in the war was complex. Many priests were killed by the military for their work. Other priests involved themselves with the dictatorship.
The line that the church most often took was of silence.
In 1996, Argentina’s bishops admitted they did not do enough during the period.
In 2007, Father Christian von Wernich became the first Catholic priest to be criminally charged for involvement in the war. A court found him guilty of crimes against humanity for collaborating in murders, cases of torture and kidnapping. He was given a life sentence.