Many of Bergoglio’s friends couldn’t make any sense out of it: “Why doesn’t he respond? Why doesn’t he tell everyone the truth so all these lies can stop?” Fr. José Maria “Pepe” di Paola kept on asking.
Fr. Pepe coordinates priests in the villas miserias,
Buenos Aires’ slums.
The priest was referring to the slanderous
comments a left-wing journalist had been making against Bergoglio for
years, to the immense joy of ultra-right wing movements.
accused him of collaborating with the military dictatorship and
facilitating the arrest of two fellow Jesuits Francisco Jalics and
Orlando Yorio, who were in turn accused of being subversive
No sooner had Bergoglio been elected Pope on 13
March than blogs and newspapers started firing accusations at him, in a
hungry attempt to find embarrassing material on Peter’s successor.
the very evening of Francis’ election, Nello Scavo, a journalist for
Italian Catholic daily Avvenire started looking into the stories
circulating on the web about the Pope having allegedly complicit with
the Argentinian dictatorship. Scavo had no premeditated theories to
prove and no hagiographical intentions.
As a journalist whop focused on
legal and judicial issues, he knew that if he could prove the
accusations against the newly elected Pope were true, he would be in for
a huge scoop. He also knew that an honest reconstruction of the facts
leaves no room for censorship and prejudices.
It was on that special evening that Scavo began the long investigation described in his book “La Lista di Bergoglio salvati da Francesco durante la dittatura”(“Bergoglio's
List: Those Saved by Pope Francis; Stories Never Told”), published in
Italian only by missionary publishing house Emi. The book which has been
written in the style of an interview is out in bookstores tomorrow.
fast-paced text includes an appendix with a transcript of the 2010
testimony Bergoglio gave during a nearly four-hour court interrogation
on the crimes committed in the Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada (ESMA) the Navy School of Mechanics that operated during Argentina’s military dictatorship.
The suspicions and lies surrounding Bergoglio’s
actions that were circulating in those first few days of his
pontificate, in a blind and universal copy-pasting frenzy, turned out to
hold no water. The only living Jesuit of the two who had been presented
as Bergoglio’s victims denied everything.
The journalist who had made
the accusations admitted that Jalics’ words had let Bergoglio off the
hook once and for all.
But Nello Scavo’s investigation had already
started by this point. Following the false clue offered by the
manipulated dossiers that were built up against Bergoglio Scavo didn’t
just get a scoop, he got much more than he bargained for.
dozens of converging testimonies about the plans Bergoglio had hatched
to protect and save many potential desaparecidos, men and women who ended up in the crosshairs of the repressive regime. At least a hundred of them, according to Scavo.
The starting line for most of the events the book describes was the Colegio Maximo in San Miguel -
in the same area of Buenos Aires Bergoglio used to live – and the
nearby Universidad del Salvador, which also had Jesuit ties. This is
where Jorge Mario Bergoglio who had not yet turned 40, hosted dissidents
who were being hunted down by the military and their thugs, either
individuals or groups, passing them off as students who were attending
spiritual exercises. Many of these men’s lives were in danger so
Bergoglio’s rescue strategy involved them being expatriated. From the
reconstruction these events it is quite clear that Bergoglio was part of
a larger support network of Jesuits across the Latin American Continent
who helped distribute expatriation documents to those who needed to get
out of the country.
The book’s 192 pages are full of the names,
faces and stories of many individuals who were rescued thanks to the
future Pope’s actions. The reader can almost feel the desperation of
that period f Argentinian history on their own skin.
Scavo paints an
eloquent and detailed picture of the consolation and reassurance
Bergoglio gave to so many during that dark period. Uruguayan militant
Gonzalo Mosca, whom Bergoglio helped flee to Brazil, after giving him
some works by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges and “a radio so I could
stay up to date.”
The book also mentions three seminarists entrusted to Bergoglio by
the Bishop of La Rioja, Enrique Angelelli. Shortly after this, the
bishop was killed by the military in a bogus road accident. Then there
are Ana and Sergio Gobelin, two Christians who were involved in the
pastoral and social mobilisation work in the Buenos Aires’ Bajo Flores
Bergoglio went to visit them in the slum and celebrated their
wedding but then Sergio was arrested by a dissident hunting squad.
Bergoglio managed to get him released with the help of Italian consul
Enrico Calamai and felpe the couple free to Friuli, in north-eastern
Italy. He convinced them by assuring them that if they died “he and his
wife would not be able to continued their mission".
The Jesuit Juan Manuel Scannone, a representative
of the Liberation Theology movement who was accused of backing the
subversive communists, states: “he covered my back, he saved me. And he
did so on many occasions”. Given the mood at the time, Bergoglio kept a
low profile and chose to show he was not affected by the anxiety that
gripped the country.
He always suggested little tricks to prevent people
from getting caught out by the regime’s hitmen. “Now is not the time to
play superheroes,” Bergoglio had said. When he drove others to places,
he advised them to avoid looking out of the window. When they spoke on
the phone they were encouraged not to say anything that could compromise
their safety and not to write such things in letters. They were to
speak in code. All these little details were also important from a
psychological point of view. First live, then philosophise was
Bergoglio’s motto. This is what drove him to meet with general Videla
and Admiral Massera, two of the dictatorship’s big fish, to try to
obtain Yorio and Jalics’ release.
Scavo’s book also reveals the source of
Bergoglio’s discretion regarding these facts. This silence was also
required of those mentioned in Bergoglio’s List who benefited from his
More than modesty and discretion, Bergoglio’s decision to stay
silent reveals an intimate aspect of the current Bishop of Rome’s
His actions speak for him and this is as true today
as it was back then. You do not respond to offensive comments and
accusations made by spiteful people and when you do a good deed you must
not boast about it but forget about it.
“But when you give to the
needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret” (Matthew 6:3-4).