The so-called “Dirty War” in Argentina ended 30 years ago. But the trials of the Argentine military men accused of monstrous crimes during that time go on. On Thursday, a woman who had been tortured and raped in one of their concentration camps looked at the 44 men in the dock and named the sadists she remembered—the one who liked to burn breasts with cigarettes; the one who tied her to a cot—pointing her finger as she spoke. And as the spectators in the court looked at the accused, they saw every one of the 44 was wearing a curious badge: white and yellow ribbons, the colors of the Vatican, to honor the Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio who had been named Pope Francis I the night before.
They weren’t doing the new pontiff any favors. Suspicions have surfaced many times over the years that when Bergoglio was the young head of the Jesuit order in Argentina during the late 1970s he took no effective stand against the systematic terror waged by the military, and may indeed have been complicit.
Today, the Dirty War stories are entirely at odds with the image of the humble, kindly old man who appeared on the balcony of St. Peter’s – a man of the people, a man who cares deeply about the poor. So the Vatican spin machine has gone into high gear. And on Friday, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi issued a statement claiming that the attacks on Bergoglio’s reputation were the work of “left-wing anticlerical elements” who are always attacking the Church.