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The Pope Francis Human-Rights Question

Reports surface about his years in Argentina

Natalie Schachar
March 14, 2013

HABEMUS PAPAM FRANCISCUM,” the Vatican yelled in all caps on its Twitter page. The news had broken: An Argentine cardinal named Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected to be the 266th pope yesterday and would take on the name Francesco in his new capacity.

In Argentina, a country that is estimated to have as many as 30 million Catholics, many people seemed excited that their country received a wave of positive attention, but also somewhat apprehensive. After the long-awaited puff of white smoke was seen coming out of the chimney of the Sistine Chapel, reports quickly surfaced that the new pope led a Jesuit order in Buenos Aires during a time that the Argentine military dictatorship killed and kidnapped about 30,000 people. The Catholic Church in Argentina has been ardently blamed for not doing enough to intervene, and Bergoglio himself publicly endorsed the military dictatorship at the time.

Tiempo Argentina is reporting that Bergoglio could be called to federal court to testify for the third time in a case involving crimes against humanity for his interaction with a pregnant woman named Elena de la Cuadra, and her husband, Hector Baratti, who were both kidnapped on Feb. 23, 1977. According to Elena’s sister, Elena gave birth to a daughter who was then taken by Argentine authorities. At the time, Elena appealed to Bergoglio for help and received a letter saying that a bishop would intercede, but after a few months passed, the bishop reported that the baby had already been adopted by an important family and that the kidnapping could not be reversed. Despite the letter, Jorge Bergoglio has denied that he knew anything about kidnapped children until after the military dictatorship was overthrown.

Bergoglio, a soft-spoken and quiet man, hid other people who came to him for help, but has also been blamed for failing to protect two priests, Francisco Jalics and Orlandio Yorio, who were abducted by the military on May 23, 1976, and tortured for failing to renounce their liberation theology. As uncovered in 2010 by a Jewish Argentine journalist named Horacio Verbitsky, Bergoglio played a role in the military government’s crackdown on Catholic priests and had questionable dealings with Jorge Videla, the infamous Argentine dictator between 1976 and 1981.

Natalie Schachar is an editorial intern at Tablet. A recent graduate of Barnard College, she has written for the Times of Israel, The Atlantic, The Argentina Independent and Lilith Magazine.