Sister of priest kidnapped during Argentine junta criticizes Pope Francis in court
Pope Francis arrives to celebrate a Mass in St. Paul Outside the Walls Basilica in Rome, Sunday, April 14, 2013. (AP / Claudio Peri, Pool)
The Associated Press
Published Thursday, April 18, 2013 7:02PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, April 18, 2013 9:47PM EDT
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- Pope Francis was harshly criticized on Thursday in an Argentine courtroom, where a woman said he didn't help protect her brother from the country's military dictatorship.
Graciela Yorio accused Jorge Mario Bergoglio of turning his back on her brother, the late Jesuit priest Orlando Virgilio Yorio, before and after he and another priest were taken by the junta's agents and tortured in 1976.
Bergoglio has said he did what he could as a young Jesuit leader with no real power to protect Yorio and other slum priests from being kidnapped by the right-wing junta. He testified in 2010 that he worked behind the scenes to win the freedom of Yorio and the other Jesuit slum priest, Francisco Jalics.
Graciela Yorio disagreed.
"My brother was practically abandoned by the church," said Yorio, who is one of more than 800 witnesses in a two-year trial of 67 defendants accused of human rights violations against 789 people who were detained at the junta's feared Navy Mechanics School.
Bergoglio told his authorized biographers for the book "The Jesuit" that he did everything in his limited power as a Jesuit leader to appeal to junta and church officials to free the men. He also testified in the lead-up to this trial that he tried to protect Yorio and Jalics, offering them shelter and protection at a time when any slum priest was in danger from right-wing death squads.
Yorio testified, however, that even before the March 1976 coup, her brother and Jalics were turned away by Bergoglio after being accused of being "subversive and extremists" for their work with the poor. She said they pleaded with Bergoglio to do something to stop "the rumours, because with these rumours their life was in danger."
But Bergoglio told them he was under too much pressure from church officials, and urged them to find a bishop who might help. None would, she said.
Prosecutor Eduardo Taiano has described what happened to Yorio and Jalics next: After saying Mass on May 23, 1976, they were separated from their parishioners in the Bajo Flores slum, near where Bergoglio grew up in Argentina's capital, and taken to the Navy Mechanics School's torture centre. They were blindfolded, chained, gagged, prevented from going to the bathroom or allowed to drink or eat. Yorio was the victim of insults, death threats and electric shocks and was drugged and terrorized during constant interrogations, Taiano determined.
Graciela Yorio said she and her mother went to Bergoglio seeking help.
"We had three interviews, and he never told us anything. Yes, I do remember that he told us, 'I made good reports.' He also told me to 'be very careful, because a sister of another person who didn't have anything to do with this was detained,"' she testified.
Five months after being taken away, Yorio and Jalics reappeared, drugged and blindfolded, in a field north of Buenos Aires.
Bergoglio told his biographers and the court, in 2010, that the men were freed in part because he quietly and repeatedly intervened with junta leaders to plead for their release.
Yorio died in 2000. Jalics, who now lives in a German monastery, recently said he considers the whole episode to be closed.
But Graciela Yorio said both men felt abandoned by Bergoglio, and by the church hierarchy as a whole.
"My brother was abandoned, expelled, without a bishop, without the support of the Company of Jesus to protect him, and that's why he was kidnapped. He was practically abandoned by the church," she said.