BERLIN (AP) — A Jesuit priest whose kidnapping by the Argentine military junta decades ago led to strong criticism of the newly elected pope said Friday that he and the pontiff have reconciled.
The Rev. Francisco Jalics, who now lives in a monastery in southern Germany, said in a statement that he had talked with the Rev. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who was named Pope Francis on Wednesday, long after the 1976 kidnapping of himself and fellow slum priest Orlando Yorio.
Bergoglio has said he told the priests to give up their slum work for their own safety, and they refused. Yorio, who is now dead, later accused Bergoglio of effectively delivering them to the death squads by declining to publicly endorse their work.
"It was only years later that we had the opportunity to talk with Father Bergoglio ... to discuss the events," Jalics said Friday in his first known comments about the kidnapping, which occurred when the new pope was the leader of Argentina's Jesuits.
"Following that, we celebrated Mass publicly together and hugged solemnly. I am reconciled to the events and consider the matter to be closed," he said.
Nobody disputes that Bergoglio, like most other Argentines, failed to openly confront Argentina's 1976-1983 military junta as it kidnapped and killed thousands of people in a so-called "dirty war" to eliminate leftist opponents. But opinions differ on how much responsibility the new pope personally deserves for the Argentine Catholic Church's dark history of supporting the murderous dictatorship.
As the military junta took over in 1976, Bergoglio withdrew his support for the two slum priests, whose activist colleagues in the liberation theology movement were disappearing. The priests were then kidnapped and tortured at the Navy Mechanics School, which the junta used as a clandestine prison.
The new pope's authorized biographer, Sergio Rubin, argues that the Catholic Church in general failed to confront the junta, and Argentine human rights activists have noted that Bergoglio never collaborated with the dictatorship.
Jalics, in his mid-80s, is currently out of Germany and could not be reached for comment beyond the statement. But Thomas Busch, a spokesman for the Jesuits in Munich, said the conversation between Jalics and Bergoglio took place in the year 2000.
In his statement, which was posted on the German Jesuits' website, Jalics did not elaborate on what the two talked about regarding the kidnapping.
"I cannot comment on the role of Father Bergoglio in these events," he said.
But he added: "I wish Pope Francis God's rich blessings for his office."