After revealing a recent interview that he plans to visit his native Argentina next year, Pope Francis subsequently told Hungarian Jesuits that roughly 50 years ago, the country’s military dictatorship wanted to put him behind bars.
He also spoke of the clerical sexual abuse crisis, which hits especially close to home for the Jesuits given the recent scandals of a prominent artist and member of their order, Father Marko Ivan Rupnik, and said that he restricted the Traditional Latin Mass because it was being used for “ideological” purposes.
Speaking to some 32 Jesuits in Budapest April 29, Pope Francis referred to a trial he underwent while still provincial superior of the Jesuits in Argentina, saying he met one of the judges in Rome after he was elected pope, and the judge admitted that “they had received instructions from the government to convict me.”
Pope Francis visited Hungary April 28-30, where he met with national authorities, refugees, the country’s bishops and religious, as well as young people.
He held a private meeting with members of the Jesuit Order in Hungary on the second day of his trip, during which he took questions from the group and greeted each one individually.
He was asked by one of the Jesuits present to explain what happened with the arrest and torture of two Jesuits priests while he was Jesuit provincial in the 1970s.
Over 8,000 people, with some claiming the number is as high as 30,000, were killed and disappeared by Argentina’s military junta between the 1976-1983 military government.
During that time, two priests, Jesuit Fathers Franz Jalics, a Hungarian missionary in Argentina, and Father Orlando Yorio, who worked in the slums, were kidnapped and tortured by the military in 1976.
They were released after five months, but for years, then-Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a young priest during Argentina’s military coup in the 1970s, was accused of not doing enough to protect the men in his role as provincial, with some even accusing Bergoglio of handing them over.
As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio was called to testify twice in the case of Yorio and Jalics. Bergoglio maintained his innocence, testifying in the early 2000s that he had met with army leaders Jorge Videla and Emilio Massera twice to ask for the priests’ and to ensure their safe release.
In his conversation with Hungarian Jesuits, Francis said both Jálics and Yorio carried out their ministry in a working-class neighborhood and “worked hard.”
A professor of dogmatic theology courses in Argentina and Chile at the time, Jálics had actually taught Bergoglio and served as his confessor when Bergoglio was in his first and second years of theological studies.
“In the neighborhood where he worked there was a guerrilla cell. But the two Jesuits had nothing to do with them: they were pastors, not politicians. They were innocent when taken prisoner,” the pope said, saying the military found nothing to charge the priests with, but nonetheless kept them in prison and subjected them to torture.
“These things leave deep wounds,” he said, saying that after Jálics was released, the priest immediately came to him so they could talk, and Francis said that at the time, he advised Jálics to join his mother in the United States because the situation “was really too confusing and uncertain.”
He said rumors then began to circulate saying he had handed the priests over, but insisted that a 3-volume set documenting what happened between the Catholic Church and the military junta recently published by the Argentinian Bishops’ Conference sets the record straight.
Pope Francis said that when the military left power, Jálics asked his permission to come back to Argentina to lead a course of the Jesuits’ Ignatian spiritual exercises. Francis said he granted permission, and the two celebrated Mass together while Jálics was in town.
“Then I saw him again as archbishop and then again also as pope; he came to Rome to see me. We always maintained this relationship,” he said, saying the last time Jálics came to visit him at the Vatican, “I could see that he was suffering because he didn’t know how to talk to me.”
“There was a distance. The wounds of those past years remained both in me and in him, because we both experienced that persecution,” he said.
Francis said there were some in the government at the time who “wanted to ‘cut off my head,’” so they put him on trial and “questioned my whole way of acting during the dictatorship.”
He said that his hearing, which took place at the episcopal residence in Buenos Aires, lasted four hours and 10 minutes, and that one of the judges “was very insistent in his questioning about the way I behaved.”
“I always answered truthfully. But, from my point of view, the only serious question, with substance and well expressed, came from the lawyer who belonged to the Communist Party. And thanks to that question, things were clarified. In the end, my innocence was established,” he said.
Pope Francis said he later saw two of the judges in Rome, who visited with a group of Argentinians.
After recognizing one of the judges, Francis said he again insisted he had acted correctly, saying, “I deserve judgment for my sins, but on this point, I want to be clear.” The second judge, he said, also greeted him, and confided that they had received instructions from the government to convict, even the future pope was eventually found innocent.
“But I want to add that when Jálics and Yorio were taken by the military, the situation in Argentina was bewildering and it was not at all clear what should be done. I did what I felt I had to do to defend them. It was a very painful affair,” the pope said, calling Jálics, who died in 2021 at the age of 94, “a man of God.”
Jálics was “a man who sought God, but he fell victim to an entourage to which he did not belong. He himself understood this. That entourage was the active resistance in the place where he went to be a chaplain,” he said, and urged the Jesuits to read the volumes published by the Argentinian bishops’ conference.
Pope Francis’s remarks on Argentina come after a conversation with an Argentine journalist in April, during which he said that he wants to visit his home country, which he has not returned to since before his election in 2013, next year.
In the conversation, Pope Francis also answered a question about how to find God amid the challenges of the modern world, specifically in light of the recommendations of the Second Vatican Council.
“I wouldn’t know how to answer that theoretically, but I certainly know that the Council is still being applied. It takes a century for a Council to be assimilated, they say,” he said, saying that ongoing resistance to the council’s reforms “is terrible.”
To this end, he pointed to what he has termed indietrismo, meaning “backwardness,” calling it a form of “restorationism” and a “nostalgic disease” that clings to the past and rejects what is modern.
Referring to his decision in 2021 to restrict use of the Traditional Latin Mass despite a liberalization of the pre-1962 liturgy by his predecessor Benedict XVI, Fracis said that, “This is why I decided that now the permission to celebrate according to the Roman Missal of 1962 is mandatory for all newly consecrated priests.”
“After all the necessary consultations, I decided this because I saw that the good pastoral measures put in place by John Paul II and Benedict XVI were being used in an ideological way, to go backward. It was necessary to stop this indietrismo, which was not in the pastoral vision of my predecessors,” he said.
Pope Francis was also asked about the clerical abuse crisis, which hits especially close to home for the Jesuits, who are currently grappling with allegations of sexual misconduct against famed Jesuit artist Marko Ivan Rupnik, who has been accused of abusing several adult women. He is currently being investigated by his order and could be defrocked at the end of the process.
Asked how to show God’s love to both the abused and the abuser, Francis said this “is not easy at all,” and that while there might be a feeling of “revulsion” when approaching an abuser, the question must also be asked of, “how can you love them?”
“The abuser is to be condemned, indeed, but as a brother. Condemning him is to be understood as an act of charity. There is a logic, a form of loving the enemy that is also expressed in this way. And it is not easy to understand and to live out,” he said.
“When you hear what abuse leaves in the hearts of abused people, the impression you get is very powerful…Even talking to the abuser involves revulsion; it’s not easy,” he said, but added, “they are God’s children too.”
“They deserve punishment, but they also deserve pastoral care. How do we provide that? No, it is not easy,” he said.