THE Vatican has strenuously denied claims that Pope Francis did not try to stop human rights abuses during military rule in his native Argentina, describing the allegations as part of a “defamatory” and “anti-clerical left-wing” campaign to discredit the 76-year-old.
Critics of the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires say he failed to properly protect priests who challenged the brutal dictatorship during the Dirty War of 1976 to 1983, which claimed the lives of about 30,000 people.
One damning allegation centres around the abduction of two Jesuits by the military government, which was suspicious of their work in the slums, with Jorge Bergoglio accused of failing to shield them from arrest.
However, the Rev Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, insisted yesterday that there has “never been a credible, concrete accusation” against the new pontiff.
One of the Jesuits who were kidnapped, Francisco Jalics, issued a statement yesterday that bolstered the Vatican’s position.
“It was only years later that we had the opportunity to talk with Father Bergoglio,” he explained, breaking years of silence over the issue. “Following that, we celebrated Mass publicly together and hugged solemnly. I am reconciled to the events and consider the matter closed.”
Meanwhile, the Pope yesterday paid a heartfelt tribute to his predecessor, Benedict XVI.
He offered the respects during an audience with the cardinals who elected him to succeed Benedict.
The Pope tripped when he greeted the dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, at the start of the audience, but he recovered immediately.