Fr John O’Connor worked in Buenos Aires for 31 years when Pope Francis, then Fr Bergoglio, was his superior.
Now parish priest in the Dublin village of Shankhill, Fr O’Connor has told the Irish Times that allegations that the Pope did not do enough to help victims of the military junta were ‘unfair’.
The report says the claims relate to 1976 when the then Fr Bergoglio was Jesuit provincial in Argentina and two priests were kidnapped by the military.
They were released after five months but critics have alleged the Pope did not do enough to help free them.
But Fr O’Connor has claimed: “Fr Bergoglio was wonderful at defending priests.
“Was there anything he could have done, number one, and what did he actually do? What he could have done is speak out and look for them and according to him, that’s what he did.”
Fr Bergoglio was appointed Archbishop Bergoglio in 1998.
Fr O’Connor added: “He was extremely supportive of priests of his diocese. He was extremely forthright and stood up to the drug barons and anybody who put priest’s lives in danger.”
The report adds that in 2001 Fr O’Connor invited Archbishop Bergoglio to celebrate the 25th anniversary Mass of three priests and two students killed by the military in the same year the two priests were kidnapped.
The paper says that in his sermon, a copy of which Fr O’Connor retains, Archbishop Bergoglio referred to the victims as ‘martyrs’.
The Dublin priest continued: “Most of the bishops would be very diplomatic and very careful about what they said. Bergoglio on the other hand was very forthright in his condemnation of what happened.
“Most of the bishops were very much with the establishment, whether it be the military dictatorship or the democratic government.
“Archbiship Bergoglio was definitely a breath of fresh air and a very simple, very unassuming man who wanted separation between Church and State.”