ROME — A prominent Argentine journalist who once accused Pope Francis of complicity in his country’s “Dirty War” now faces charges himself of having secretly aided a military regime in the 1970s and 80s that was responsible for widespread killings, “disappearances,” and other human rights violations.
Back in 2005, left-wing journalist Horacio Verbitsky published a book charging that then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergogio, during a period in the 1970s when he served as Argentina’s Jesuit superior, had been responsible for turning two progressive members of his order into the security services, resulting in their torture.
Those charges appeared in the run-up to the papal election in 2005 that saw Bergoglio finish as the runner-up to Pope Benedict XVI, and resurfaced after Bergoglio was elected as Pope Francis in 2013. They were subsequently denied by the one surviving Jesuit.
Now, it’s Verbitsky’s turn to face charges of complicity with the military regime.
Under the provocative headline “Verbitsky: With God and with the Devil,” two Argentinian journalists on Monday published never-before released government files alleging that Verbitsky worked for the military regime from 1978 to 1981.
The article, signed by investigative reporters Gabriel Levinas and Sergio Serrichio, was published on the blog plazademayo.com. The documents appear to show that Verbitsky, a former member of the intelligence branch of a leftist guerilla movement, was also a ghostwriter for key figures in Argentina’s military junta.
According to the reporters, who have been conducting research for the past 14 months for an unauthorized biography, Verbitsky had the support of army leader Juan José Güiraldes, a retired member of the country’s air force, and one of the “intellectual minds” behind a 1976 coup.
It was Güiraldes’s son, Pedro, who found a 34-page manuscript of speeches written by Verbitsky on his father’s behalf. They also found proof that he penned a book on the history of Argentina’s armed forces that was published in May 1979, titled “The Argentine Air Power.”
The journalists also claim to have discovered a six-month contract between Verbitsky and the military regime for 700,000 Argentine pesos a month, equivalent to $5,000 US in today’s currency, as well as information on dates of meetings between Verbitsky and his employers.
The two journalists imply that those meetings may have led to kidnappings of high-ranking members of the guerillas.
In their article, Levinas and Serrichio praise Verbitsky as an “implacable denouncer of human rights violations committed during the years of the dictatorship” and also of the corruption during the government of Argentinian president Carlos Menem (1989-1999).
Yet they also express regret over Verbitsky’s refusal to answer questions regarding their discoveries.
According to TELAM, a national news agency aligned with the current leftist government of President Cristina Kirchner, Verbitsky said that the accusations against him were part of a “frame-up from beginning to end. There is not a single word of truth.”
Verbitsky presently divides his time writing for Página 12, a left-wing Argentine newspaper considered a mouthpiece of the government, and heading the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), a non-governmental human rights organization founded in 1979 to denounce abuses committed by the military regime.
Ten years ago, Verbitsky wasn’t alone in his accusations against the future Pope Francis.
Hebe de Bonafini, one of the co-founders of the famed “Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo,” accused Bergoglio of representing fascism, once even leaving a bucket of urine in his cathedral in protest against a Church that, according to her, had “kept quiet when they took [our children] away.”
She has since then changed her position, writing five days after Francis’ election that she “was not aware of the pastoral work carried out by Don Francisco … Today I am surprised to learn, from my friends and colleagues, of his work in the slums.”
Others defended Francis’ actions, including Argentine Nobel Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, who denied Verbitsky’s charges when they first arose.
After Francis came to the papacy, Italian journalist Nello Scavo published “Bergoglio’s List: The Untold Story of the People Saved by Francis during the Dictatorship,” comparing Bergoglio’s quiet efforts to help targets of the regime to the German Oskar Schindler during World War II. British author Austen Ivereigh, in his biography “The Great Reformer,” also pointed to cases of Bergoglio’s behind-the-scenes efforts.