A witness to the Pope’s dark past

  • Under Argentina’s dictatorship, the future pope kept silent, and according to some, even collaborated.
  • The controversy is not new, but now an eyewitness of Father Bergoglio’s attitude tells his story.

Doctor Lorenzo Riquelme studied at the Colegio Maximo, the Jesuit university of San Miguel. Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, worked at the same institution. In the 1970s, during Argentina’s dictatorship, Father Bergoglio was the Provincial Superior of the Society of Jesus and had his offices at the Colegio Maximo. Lorenzo Riquelme, who was a student at the time, was a witness to what Bergoglio permitted within that institution. The religious magazine Golias published an interview with Riquelme.


In the five-page interview Lorenzo Riquelme speaks of several events revealing the Church’s complicity with the military dictatorship that occurred within the Jesuit faculty at San Miguel. He recalls that in 1975, the Colegio Maximo hosted a conference for SIDE, the dictatorship’s secret service. In 1977 the Jesuit institution awarded an honorary doctorate to Emilio Massera, a member of the military junta, the leader of one of the worst detention and torture centers, the army’s college of engineering. Jorge Bergoglio was named Provincial Superior of the Jesuits in 1973. It seems impossible that he did not give his approval to these two events.


Bergoglio had his eye on everything.

The former student also recalled his own experiences. In 1976 he was kidnapped twice to be tortured. At the time he was close to the Third World priests’ movement and primary care physician for the Assumptionist community. The military wanted information on three Assumptionist priests. One “detail” is telling. His second kidnapping was prepared with the active complicity of Father Martin Gonzales. The student’s fiancée had also been kidnapped and questioned in Gonzales’ presence. As he told Golias, “Father Gonzales had the duty of obedience to his superior. [Jorge Bergoglio] had his eye on everything and it’s impossible that one of his close associates did not keep him informed about what was happening in his institution.” He also tells how some Assumptionist priests he was close to were kidnapped or disappeared, but the Argentinean Church never intervened.


Retracing Pope Francis’ career, the physician denounces his constantly conciliatory attitude towards the dictatorship, which bordered on bargaining: “Ordained into the priesthood in 1969 before becoming Jesuit Provincial Superior in 1973, Jorge Bergoglio was part of the Iron Guard, a Peronist extreme right-wing group. He was named auxiliary bishop of the Buenos Aires diocese in 1992, archbishop in 1998 and cardinal in 2001 before being elected Pope this year. Jorge Bergoglio never publicly demanded that those responsible for disappearances and torture be condemned. He is a powerful man who was always working towards being elected Pope. No one becomes Pope by accident.” He also recalls his refusal to take part in the award of the Human Rights Award to Bishop Miguel Hesayne in 2003 for his resistance under the dictatorship.


“It took us six months to find this witness,” explains Christian Terras, editor in chief of Golias. “We wanted an eyewitness to give his testimony about what happened within Bergoglio’s walls. He is a Christian witness, and he remains one! That is important, because he is not getting even with the Church. Horacio Verbitsky was criticized for that.”


A Christian speaks

The controversy over the Argentinean Catholic Church’s ties with the military dictatorship is not new. Verbitsky’s book, El Silencio, published in 2005, was already accusing Father Bergoglio of having played a troubling role under the dictatorship regarding the kidnapping of the two Third-World movement priests, Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics. The journalist’s problem? Being a layman fiercely opposed to the Catholic Church and susceptible to writing an accusatory work. That was why, for Golias, it was important to find a Christian witness, one who does not deny his faith, but calls himself deeply wounded: “Father Gonzales’ attitude, a priest whom I trusted and the responsibility of his superior, Jorge Bergoglio wounded me in a way that has never quite healed,” he told our colleagues.


Christian Terras, who since Pope Francis’ election has continued to denounce the Pope’s statements that according to Terras, hides a much less progressive doctrine and defends himself relentlessly. He believes that it is no longer tenable for Jorge Bergoglio to continue to deny his past, “Everything has been organized to whitewash this Pope’s image. Whether before, during or after the dictatorship, he never worked for truth and justice. He cannot establish his credibility if he doesn’t revisit his past and make honorable amends.”



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