Argentina: ‘Dirty war’ witness hits out at Pope

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Pope Francis has been harshly criticised in an Argentine courtroom, where a woman said he did not help protect her brother from the country’s military dictatorship.

Graciela Yorio accused the then Jorge Mario Bergoglio of turning his back on her brother, the late Jesuit priest Orlando Virgilio Yorio, before and after he and another priest were taken by the junta’s agents and tortured in 1976.

The Pope has said he did what he could as a young Jesuit leader with no real power to protect Fr Yorio and other slum priests from being kidnapped by the right-wing junta. He testified in 2010 that he worked behind the scenes to win the freedom of Fr Yorio and Fr Francisco Jalics.

“My brother was practically abandoned by the church,” said Ms Yorio, who is one of more than 800 witnesses in a two-year trial of 67 defendants accused of “dirty war” human rights violations against 789 people who were detained at the junta’s feared Navy Mechanics School.

The Pope told his authorised biographers for the book The Jesuit that he did everything in his limited power to appeal to junta and church officials to free the men. He also testified in the lead-up to the current trial that he tried to protect Frs Yorio and Jalics, offering them shelter at a time when any slum priest was in danger from death squads.

Ms Yorio testified, however, that even before the March 1976 coup, her brother and Fr Jalics were turned away by the then Provincial Superior Bergoglio after being accused of being “subversive and extremists” for their work with the poor. She said they pleaded with him to do something to stop “the rumours, because with these rumours their life was in danger”.

He told the priests he was under too much pressure from church officials, and urged them to find a bishop who might help. None would, she said.

The Pope told his biographers and the court, in 2010, that the men were freed in part because he intervened with junta leaders.

Fr Yorio died in 2000. Fr Jalics, who now lives in a German monastery, recently said he considers the whole episode to be closed.