VATICAN CITY — The Vatican and Argentina’s Catholic Church say they have finished cataloguing their archives from the country’s brutal “dirty war” and will make them available to victims who have long accused the church of complicity with the military dictatorship.
A joint statement Tuesday said the process of cataloguing and digitalization had been completed and procedures for victims to access the information would be forthcoming.
The statement said the decision to open the archives of the Vatican, its Buenos Aires embassy and the Argentine bishops’ conference was taken “in the service of truth, justice and peace.”
Pope Francis had pledged to open the archives when pressed by relatives of “desaparecidos” or disappeared, particularly the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. Francis was the Jesuit superior in Argentina during the country’s 1976-1983 dictatorship.
Although rumors of the future pope’s complicity in the “Dirty War,” in particular the arrests of two Jesuits under his authority, surfaced during the conclave of 2005 that elected emeritus Pope Benedict XVI and again shortly after his own election in March 2013, by now they have largely been debunked.
In October 2013, Italian journalist Nello Scavo published a book titled Bergoglio’s List, a reference to the pope’s given name, documenting multiple cases in which then-Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio had secretly helped victims of the military regime, at times at the risk of his own life.
The future pope, Scavo writes, saved as many as a thousand targets of the military dictatorship by providing shelter in a Jesuit college, passing them off as seminarians or laity on retreat, then helping them move out of Argentina.
In one case, according to Scavo, Bergoglio gave a man who bore him a passing resemblance his own passport and priest’s clothing to make his escape.
Hebe de Bonafini, now 87, the founder and president of the Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo (Association of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo), created by the mothers of the desaparecidos, apologized to the pontiff for her earlier criticism of his record during the years of military rule, saying she wasn’t aware of his quiet activity to save lives.
In May, Pope Francis received Bonafini in a Vatican audience.
“Pope Francis is with the people, not with the powerful,” she said afterwards in a news conference.
In November 2014 he received the president, Estella Carlotto, of the Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo, Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, together with her grandson who had been found after many years. She, too, admitted that she had been wrong in accusing him of being an accomplice of the military regime.
Crux Staff contributed to this report.