Argentine Nobel peace laureate Esquivel defends pope

Thu Mar 21, 2013 11:35am EDT
 
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By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel defended Pope Francis on Thursday against accusations he failed to speak out against repression during the 1976-83 military dictatorship in their native Argentina, saying he preferred "silent diplomacy".

Links between some high-ranking Roman Catholic clergymen and the U.S-backed military regime that kidnapped and killed up to 30,000 leftists between 1976 and 1983 tarnished the Church's reputation in Argentina and the wounds have yet to heal.

Critics of Pope Francis say that in his then role, he failed to protect priests who challenged the junta and has said too little about the complicity of the Church during military rule.

"The pope had nothing to do with the dictatorship. He was not an accomplice of the dictatorship," Esquivel told reporters after a 30-minute meeting with Francis in the Vatican.

"He preferred a silent diplomacy, to ask about the missing, about the oppressed. There is no proof that he was an accomplice because he was never an accomplice. Of this I am sure," he said.

The pope, formerly Jorge Bergoglio, was not a bishop during the dictatorship but was a priest. He headed the Jesuit order in Argentina between 1973-1979 and was appointed a bishop in 1992.

According to Horacio Verbitsky, a journalist and author close to President Cristina Fernandez, with whom Bergoglio has a prickly relationship, he withdrew his order's protection of two Jesuit priests after they refused to quit visiting the slums, paving the way for their capture.

The Vatican has denied the charges and on Thursday Esquivel, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1980 for defending human rights in Argentina during the dictatorship, said he believed there were "many errors" in Verbitsky's book about the period, called "The Silence".   Continued...

 
Adolfo Perez Esquivel speaks with media after a private meeting at the Vatican with Pope Francis, in Rome, March 21, 2013. Esquivel defended Pope Francis on Thursday against accusations he failed to speak out against repression during the 1976-83 military dictatorship in their native Argentina, saying he prefered "silent diplomacy". REUTERS/Remo Casilli