Critics of new Pope Francis have claimed that he maintained his silence as Argentina’s brutal military dictatorship raged a dirty war against left wing activists.
Some critics have pointed to his failure and the failure of his church to expose human rights violation at the height of military rule.
The claims were made in the wake of the publication of an interview with Argentina’s former military dictator Jorge Videla.
The interview, conducted in 2010, were only published on Sunday, hours before Archbishop of Buenos Aires Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected Pope in Rome.
In the interview, Videla claims that he kept Argentina’s Catholic hierarchy informed about his regime’s policy of ‘disappearing’ political opponents.
He also told El Sur magazine that that the country’s Catholic leaders, including the new Pope claimhis critics, offered advice on how to ‘manage’ the policy.
Videla said he had ‘many conversations with Argentina’s then primate Cardinal Primatesta, about his regime’s dirty war against left-wing activists.
He claimed there were also conversations with other leading bishops from Argentina’s Episcopal conference as well as with the country’s papal nuncio at the time, Pio Laghi.
Videla said: “They advised us about the manner in which to deal with the situation.
“In certain cases church authorities offered their good offices and undertook to inform families looking for disappeared relatives to desist from their searches, but only if they were certain the families would not use the information to denounce the junta.
“In the case of families that it was certain would not make political use of the information, they told them not to look any more for their child because he was dead.”
Videla added: “The church understood well and also assumed the risks of such involvement.”
Critics say the Videla confession confirms long-held suspicions that Argentina’s Catholic hierarchy collaborated with the military’s so-called process of national reorganisation, which sought to root out communism.
Thousands of left-wing activists were swept up into secret detention centres where they were tortured and murdered after the Videla led coup in 1976.
The interview claims military chaplains were assigned as spiritual advisers to the junior officers who staffed the centres.
The Argentinean church’s actions were in stark contrast to the Catholic hierarchy in Brazil, where church leaders denounced that country’s military dictatorship and provided sanctuary to its victims.
Argentinean bishops were prominent defenders of the regime against accusations of human rights abuses from abroad.
The report says that at the height of the state’s offensive, Cardinal Primatesta refused to meet with mothers of the disappeared.
It claims he also prohibited the lower clergy from speaking out against state violence, even as death squads targeted Catholic priests critical of the regime.
Primatesta’s defenders have said that he believed a break with the regime would be counter-productive and that in private he characterised disappearances and torture as against the Christian spirit.
Human rights campaigners in Argentina claimed on his death in 1996 that Cardinal Primatesta took to the grave many of the junta’s secrets after they failed to force him to testify about his dealings with it.