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Vatican defends Pope against 'dirty war' accusations

'Defamatory' allegations come from 'anti-clerical elements,' says Vatican

Posted: Mar 15, 2013 9:42 AM ET

Last Updated: Mar 15, 2013 8:04 PM ET

The Vatican is defending newly elected Pope Francis against allegations he was complicit in human rights abuses during Argentina's 1976-1983 military junta.

"[The accusations] reveal left-wing elements, anti-clerical elements that are used to attack the church," said a Vatican spokesman during a Friday news conference, adding that the allegations are "defamatory."

"They must be firmly and clearly denied.”

During Argentina's troubled period, the military kidnapped or killed tens of thousands of people. The military claimed to be fighting against "subversive elements."

The Vatican says no credible accusation had ever stuck against the new pope, formerly known as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who was born in and has lived most of his life in Argentina, said CBC's Karen Pauls from Vatican City. Instead, the Catholic Church is focusing on testimony that the pope actually helped many people privately and publicly during that time, she said.

The Vatican said after Bergoglio became a bishop he was instrumental in persuading the Church to apologize to Argentines "for not having done enough at the time of the dictatorship."

Church, Bergoglio accused of staying silent

However, many Argentines say that apology came too late. They have accused him and the Church over the years of staying silent during a time of human rights abuses, she said. Some even say the Church may have been complicit in turning in some people working against the military dictatorship, she said.

One such accusation came from a Jesuit priest. In 1976, two priests were kidnapped and tortured. One of the pair, Orlando Yorio, accused Bergoglio of effectively handing them over to the death squads by declining to tell the military regime that he endorsed their work.

The Pope has previously said he had taken extraordinary measures to free the pair.

Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, noted Friday that one of the two men who was kidnapped, Francisco Jalics, issued a statement on Friday saying the he had subsequently reconciled with Bergoglio.

Jalics, who had maintained his silence about the events until today, said he had spoken with Bergoglio years later, that the two had celebrated Mass together and hugged "solemnly."

"I am reconciled to the events and consider the matter to be closed," he said.

While there has never been any clear evidence that Bergoglio ever put people in harm's way, said CBC's Adrienne Arsenault from Buenos Aires, that doesn't mean people didn't want him to speak up for their rights.

Today, many Argentines are complaining that the new pope stayed too silent during a time the country needed his authoritative voice, she said. One critic compared the situation to a mother not working hard enough to help her children.

She said those wounds have not closed for the mainly Catholic country — where church attendance has been dropping. About 90 per cent of Argentines are Catholic, but only between 10-20 per cent are practicing their faith.

She said many haven't forgotten or forgiven the Church for their actions, or lack of action, during the "dirty war."

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With files from the Associated Press

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