The pain of Argentina's "dirty war," an internal conflict that took thousands of lives in the 1970s and 1980s, is still fresh there. Even after some of the leaders of the right-wing military junta have been tried and jailed, the legacy of those years is far from resolved, with many questions unanswered.
Some of those questions have to do with the role of the Catholic church, which has been accused of complicity with the military regime. And now that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires has become Pope Francis, narrower questions about his specific role, once a primarily Argentine concern, have become global. Accusations and doubt are common in the aftermath of any civil conflict, and of course that alone is far from proof of any wrongdoing. But this is probably a topic we're going to be hearing more about in the coming weeks and months as the world gets to know Francis. So it's worth understanding the basics.
Here, from the Washington Post's Anthony Faiola, is a handy primer on the basic questions around Francis and the dirty war. It's a great way to get caught up:
Born in Buenos Aires on Dec. 17, 1936, Bergoglio was raised in a struggling middle-class home of a railroad worker and a homemaker. He was ordained a priest in 1969, and his ascent toward higher office occurred during a time when the Catholic Church in Argentina stood accused of, at best, failing to speak out against — and, at worst, being complicit in — the harsh right-wing dictatorships of the Dirty War, under which an estimated 30,000 dissidents disappeared between 1976 and 1983.
A book by the noted Argentine journalist Horacio Verbitsky, “The Silence,” claims that Bergoglio, then a Jesuit leader, lifted church protection from two leftist priests of his order, effectively allowing them to be jailed for refusing to end their politically charged ministry in the Buenos Aires slums. Bergoglio’s supporters have cited a lack of evidence, countering that he endeavored to aid dissidents in danger during a dark period in Argentine history.
“What this says about him is that there is a big distance between what he says and what he does,” Verbitsky said in a telephone interview from Buenos Aires. “He portrays himself as popular, almost revolutionary, a man who goes into the ghettos. But when the military came to power, he did not protect his own.”