Watch a video of Adolfo Pérez Esquivel meeting Pope Francis
Pope Francis chose to engage in “a silent diplomacy” to help victims of Argentina’s ‘dirty war’ rather than lead a public outcry, according to an Argentine Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
“The Pope had nothing to do with the dictatorship… he was not an
accomplice,” said Adolfo Pérez Esquivel after a private meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Thursday.
While the Vatican released no details about the meeting, Pérez, 81, told journalists that he and the Pope spoke about the so-called ‘dirty war’ period “in general terms” during their 30-minute encounter.
Pérez, who won the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on human rights during the 1976-1983 dictatorship, said the future Pope, then Fr Jorge Mario Bergoglio, “was not among the bishops who were in the front line of the defence of human rights because he preferred a silent diplomacy to ask about the missing, about the oppressed.”
He said leaders and members of the Catholic Church reacted and behaved differently during the period as regards to either collaborating or resisting the regime. “There were bishops who were accomplices with the dictatorship, but not Bergoglio,” he added.
Fr Bergoglio was head of the Jesuit province in Argentina from
1973 to 1979, a period in which 30,000 Argentines were kidnapped, tortured, murdered or disappeared. He then served as rector of Colegio Maximo and a parish priest in the Diocese of San Miguel until leaving for Germany to complete his doctoral thesis in 1986.
Some claims had been made that Pope Francis played either a direct role in the kidnappings of two Jesuit priests during the country’s murderous military dictatorship or that he allegedly failed to protect the two young priests, Fathers Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics, from kidnapping by Argentina’s military junta in 1976. Both priests were later freed.
A Vatican spokesman said: “This was never a concrete or credible accusation. He was questioned by an Argentine court as someone aware of the situation but never appeared as a defendant. He has, in documented form, denied any accusations.”
“Instead, there have been many declarations demonstrating how much (the future Pope Francis) did to protect many persons at the time of the military dictatorship.”
Fr Jalics has recently emphasised that he and the late Fr Yorio had never been denounced by the future Pope to the military junta.
Pérez made a public statement on his website earlier this month, saying the pope “was not directly complicit” with the regime. He said Pope Francis “did not have ties with the dictatorship,” even though he may have “lacked the courage to stand with us in our struggle for human rights.”