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VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis said that when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires more than a decade ago, the Argentine government wanted “to cut my head off” by backing false accusations that he had collaborated with the military dictatorship of the 1970s.
Francis made his comments on April 29 in a private conversation with Jesuits while he was visiting Hungary. Francis is also a Jesuit and the comments were published on Tuesday in the Italian Jesuit journal Civilta Cattolica, as is customary after such meetings.
During Francis’ visit, a Hungarian member of the Jesuits religious order asked him about his relationship with the late Father Frenc Jalics, a Hungarian-born Jesuit who did social work in a Buenos Aires shantytown and was arrested by the military on suspicion of helping leftist guerrillas.
Jalics was arrested in 1976 along with another Jesuit priest, Orlando Yorio, a Uruguayan. Yorio died in 2000 and Jalics died in 2021.
When Francis was elected pope in 2013, an Argentine journalist accused Francis of having betrayed the two priests when he was Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio and the superior of Argentine Jesuits during the military’s “dirty war” against leftists.
“The situation (during the dictatorship) was really very confused and uncertain. Then the legend developed that I had handed them over to be imprisoned,” Francis said.
Francis has always denied this and when he was elected pope, Jalics issued a statement saying the arrest was not the future Pope’s fault.
In 2010, by which time the future Pope had become archbishop of Buenos Aires, he testified before a three-judge panel investigating the period of dictatorship.
“Some people in the government wanted to ‘cut off my head’ … (but) in the end my innocence was established,” Francis said.
The Pope did not give details but as archbishop of Buenos Aires, he had an often rocky relationship with the government of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who served in that role from 2007-2015.
She accused him of taking sides politically, mostly during his visits to Buenos Aires shanty towns, and once avoided him by shunning a traditional Mass in the Argentine capital.
In the conversation with the Jesuits in Hungary, Francis said that after he became pope, he met one of the three judges who had interrogated him in 2010 “and he told me clearly that they had received instructions from the government to convict me”.
Francis’ uneasy relationship with Argentine politicians is believed to be one reason he has not yet returned to his homeland since he became pope. – Rappler.com