After a private audience with the Holy Father, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, a historic fighter for human rights who was tortured by the dictatorship in Argentina, said at a press conference in the Vatican: “The Pope told me that he is convinced that it is necessary to advance in truth, justice and reparation of the damage done by the dictatorships.”
Pérez described his meeting with the Holy Father as “very good” and reiterated that the then-Father Bergoglio had no links with the dictatorship. He specified that “although he limited himself to protest, it’s not right to accuse him of complicity,” because “although he was not among the bishops in the front line for the defense of human rights, he opted for a silent diplomacy, appealing for the release of prisoners.”
“To be an accomplice means to have collaborated, as some bishops did,” Pérez clarified. Moreover, “at that time, Bergoglio wasn’t a bishop but only provincial superior of the Jesuits in Argentina,” he noted.
“I know he tried to protest against the violation of human rights,” Pérez added, reminding that the events should be placed in what was a tremendous period, “in the climate of that period of military dictatorship.”
During his imprisonment, Pérez Esquivel was awarded the John XXIII Peace Memorial by Pax Christi International, among other international awards.
In 1980, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace for his commitment to the defense of democracy and human rights through non-violent means, in face of the military dictatorships in Latin America. Imprisoned and tortured by the military regime, he was in jail for 14 months and in guarded liberty for an additional 14 months.
He was one of the first to defend the new Pope, after the latter was accused of not doing everything possible to obtain the liberation of two kidnapped priests, and of being aware of the kidnapping of babies by the dictatorship.
He said that in his meeting with Pope Francis, “we also talked about the martyrs of the Church in Latin America, such as Bishops Oscar Arnulfo Romero and Enrique Angelelli, of El Salvador and Argentina, respectively.”
He added that the Holy Father expressed his concern and the need “to reduce the rates of poverty in the world, working next to the poor.”
Pope Bergoglio also explained to Pérez Esquivel “the reason why he chose the name Francis.”
It stemmed from the suggestion of Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, seated beside him, who when the votes already indicated him as Pope, said to him: “Don’t forget the poor.”
The audience, which lasted some 30 minutes — exceptional given the usual duration of papal audiences (yesterday’s lasted between 15 and 20 minutes) — took place in the Pontiff’s personal library in the Apostolic Palace.
According to the Catholic human rights activist, the data of Cardinal Bergoglio’s detractor, Horacio Verbitsky – who was head of espionage of the Montoneros urban guerrilla in the 1970s, and is today director of the newspaper Pagina 12 — “contains errors.”
The Vatican has also released a statement about the criticisms against then-Father Bergoglio.
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