ROSARIO, Argentina – Argentina’s bishops strongly condemned the “crimes of illegal espionage” that were allegedly perpetrated during the government of Mauricio Macri, who led the country between 2015 and 2019.

“Nothing can justify the illegal wiretapping or the pressures that are allegedly intended to be exerted on the victims of such actions,” reads a statement from the bishops National Commission for Justice and peace.

The statement was released after several allegations that the former national administration illegally spied on at least one Catholic bishop — Jorge Lugones, of Lomas de Zamora and president of the bishops’ commission that released the statement — and several priests.

Lugones, a Jesuit, was ordained as a bishop in 1999 by then-Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, today better known as Pope Francis.

Several reports claim that Father Jose di Paola, one of the “slum priests” that work with Argentina’s poorest citizens, also had his phone illegally tapped.

“Democracy does not admit shady sub-soils that shelter and facilitate abuse and illegal practices,” the statement from the justice and peace commission reads. “Democracy is strengthened with institutionality and transparency.”

“A bad fate would await us as a country if we were to naturalize or justify certain procedures based on political parties or flags,” the commission said, adding that the illegal espionage of Argentina’s own citizens  must be condemned, regardless of the party in power.

The allegations were made by the director of Argentina’s National Intelligence Agency (AFI), currently ran by Cristina Caamaño, a protégé of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the country’s former president and current vice president.

As the newly appointed director of the agency, Caamaño has alleged that during Macri’s government AFI illegally tapped leaders of the opposition, top members of Macri’s own team, journalists and a handful of religious leaders, including Lugones and Di Paola.

“We repudiate illegal procedures of any kind, we stand in solidarity with the alleged victims of the events denounced, we demand a thorough and rapid investigation that, respecting legal guarantees, that seeks the evidence of the events that have occurred and correspondingly identifies those responsible,” says the statement released by the bishops commission on June 11.

Bishop Oscar Ojea, president of the Argentine bishops’ conference, and its vice-presidents Cardinal Mario Poli and Archbishop Marcelo Colombo also condemned the crimes of illegal espionage, asking that the practice be “banished from our Republic” as they are contrary to democracy and are a serious detriment to individual freedom.

Earlier in the week, Lugones had received the support of his two auxiliary bishops, who released a statement saying that illegal phone-tapping is “improper in any democracy, and invites us to reflect and call for truth and justice for our bishop and other victims of such an unfortunate situation.”

The government of Argentina illegally tapping the Catholic hierarchy is not a new phenomenon. In fact, Di Paola was reportedly spied on by the same intelligence agency when Kirchner was president from 2007 and 2015, so when he was consulted about the allegations made against Macri’s government he simply said: “It’s nothing new.”

During the Kirchner government — both Cristina’s and that of her husband Néstor Kirchner, who led the country between 2003 and 2007 — then-Cardinal Bergoglio was spied on too. It’s been widely reported that he often had the radio playing very loudly in his office during important meetings. His email was also allegedly hacked.

According to Gustavo Vera, an Argentine politician close to Pope Francis, Bergoglio was under electronic surveillance from 2005 onward, if not even for a longer period of time. The wiretaps ended when he was elected to the papacy in 2013, but the period of the wiretapping coincides with a sharp deterioration in relations between the government and the Argentine Catholic Church.

Speaking with Noticias, an Argentine magazine, Di Paola said that he wouldn’t be surprised if the wiretapping turned out to be true, but did wonder why he’d be under surveillance: “They will only find that we do the work we do.”

He then questioned if, perhaps, he was tapped to “follow Bergoglio?” — implying that he wasn’t the real target of the espionage, but the pontiff.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma