Bergoglio's List

On 24 March 1976, the army in Argentina seizes power. On the pretext of a fight against the far-left guerilla organizations, they introduce dictatorship, and carry away – “sniff in”, as contemporaries say – from their homes, jobs, the streets, or even from the churches, those tinged with the slightest shadow of suspicion of disagreement with the system: students, workers, trade unionists, social workers, catechists and priests working in slums, as well as their relatives. The vast majority of those deported are tortured, and then thrown from airplanes into the Atlantic Ocean. Between 1976 and 1983 – until the dictatorship falls in the inglorious Falklands War – an estimated thirty thousand desaparecidos disappeared in this way.

The leaders of the Argentine Catholic Church, who were also afraid of the strengthening of the pro-Communist movements, did not openly act against the abuses of the junta, which they considered the less evil, or even the savior of the nation. This is why they have been severely criticized after the fall of the dictatorship by of the resurgent Argentine democracy. The persons criticized also include Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who also had an important position in the hierarchy of the Catholic church in Argentina, as the Argentine provincial of the Jesuit order. Although the court investigating the sins of the dictatorship has repeatedly declard him clear of suspicion of the collaboration with the regime, the press still publishes various statements, according to which he could have at least stood up more vigorously for those persecuted by the regime, including the Hungarian Jesuit Francis Jálics, who spent several months in detention for his work done among the poor.

This photo, with the falsified caption “Bergoglio administers sacraments to the Argentine dictator General Videla”, was for many years one of the clichés of the anti-Bergoglio press. Although it has long been established that the priest in it is not Bergoglio, it still regularly appears – though, with no caption – as an illustration of the articles attacking Bergoglio.

On 13 March 2013, when Jorge Mario Bergoglio is elected Pope Francis, these reproaches gain a new impetus in the international press. This inspires Nello Scavo, journalist of the Italian daily Avvenire, to investigate the truth of these charges. And in the course of a series of detailed interviews with the former acquaintances of Bergoglio, he reaches a startling conclusion. Not only did the Jesuit provincial not assist the dictatorship, but, by building an extensive secret network, he even saved, regardless of their political affiliation, several hundred people who faced the risk of deportation and death by the regime. He usually gave shelter to them in the Jesuit house of Buenos Aires on the pretext of “spiritual exercises” for a few days, while he organized a way to secretly get them over to Brazil, where his acquaintances working in the embassies assisted them in acquiring European visas.

The title of the book – Bergoglio’s List, which, after appearing already in eight other languages, has now my Hungarian translation has also been published by the Academic Publisher – obviously refers to Schindler’s List. The Hungarian reader will probably browse with special interest the chapter on Francis Jálics, because since the election of Pope Francis, the Hungarian press, otherwise uninterested in South America, loves to warm up the many-year old canned news of the international press. According to the charge spread by journalist Horacio Verbitsky from New York Times to the Argentine Página 12 – which he finally publicly withdrew –, it was the Provincial who denounced the two Jesuits, Jálics and Orlando Yorio, working in the slums; or, in another, mitigated version, he only “cut off his support” of them, thereby facilitating the job of the dictatorship. However, Jálics clearly states in this chapter: “Yorio and I were not denounced by Bergoglio”, and in the nineties he concelebrated a public Mass with Bergoglio to silence the accusations. Without much success, it seems: sensationalism is always more exciting than reality. Which latter was in this case, as this chapter documents it in detail, that Bergoglio personally intervened with the representatives of the dictatorship, threatening with the pressure of the Jesuit order and the Vatican, for the release of the two Jesuits, which eventually took place. As an amazing rarity, in fact, since the regime was well known to leave no witness alive, and once it sniffed in someone, he or she would never come to light any more.

In this volume, Nello publishes only a dozen of his interviews made with the several hundred survivors on “Bergoglio’s List”. But from these few, it is apparent that Bergoglio, as a Jesuit Provincial during the dictatorship, confessed and did the same as after the election as Pope: stood on the side of the poor and persecuted.