Pope Francis greets people in St. Peter's Square before celebrating his inaugural Mass at the Vatican March 19. (CNS photo/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)
Pope Francis greets people in St. Peter’s Square before celebrating his inaugural Mass at the Vatican March 19. (CNS photo/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis preferred carrying out “a silent diplomacy” in helping victims versus leading a more public outcry during Argentina’s “dirty war,” said an Argentine Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

“The pope had nothing to do with the dictatorship … he was not an accomplice,” Adolfo Perez Esquivel told journalists after his private meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican March 21.

While the Vatican released no details about the meeting, Perez, 81, told journalists that he and the pope spoke about the so-called “dirty war” period “in general terms” during their 30-minute encounter.

Perez, who won the 1980 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on human rights during the 1976-1983 dictatorship, said the future pope, then-Jesuit Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio, “was not among the bishops who were in the front line of the defense 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 said.

Then-Father Bergoglio was head of the Jesuit province in the country from 1973 to 1979, the height of the clandestine war that saw as many as 30,000 Argentines kidnapped, tortured, murdered or disappeared, never to be seen again. 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.

The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, said March 15, “This was never a concrete or credible accusation,” adding that the future pope had been “questioned by an Argentine court as someone aware of the situation but never 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,” the spokesman said.

Father Jalics has recently emphasized that he and the late Father Yorio had never been denounced by the future pope to the military junta.

Perez made a public statement on his website March 14, saying the pope “was not directly complicit” with the regime.

He said the pope “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.”

After his March 21 meeting with the pope, Perez told reporters “there is no proof” of the pope’s complicity with the regime “because he was never an accomplice, of this I am sure.”

By Carol Glatz Catholic News Service