Argentina's Dirty War and Pope Francis

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Thursday, August 20, 2015
VIDEO: Jim Gardner reports on Argentina's Dirty War and Pope Francis
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For millions of Catholics, Pope Francis' young papacy has been a breath of fresh air, that in a country that is still dealing with the stench of the Dirty War.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (WPVI) -- For millions of Catholics, Pope Francis' papacy has been a breath of fresh air in a country that is still dealing with the stench of the Dirty War.

From 1976 to 1983, Argentina was ruled by a right wing military dictatorship, and over that time, more than 30,000 people were kidnapped.

They're called the Disappeared, adults and children. At least 8,000 were tortured and killed.

One of them was Ester Ballestrino.

She was a chemist and her lab assistant was the man who would become pope, a young Jorge Bergoglio.

Her daughter, Ana Maria Careaga, showed me where her mother and six others were taken by naval officers.

They had been protesting outside the Church of Santa Cruz in Buenos Aires. Over the coming days, 5 other members of the group would be kidnapped as well.

They were mothers whose children had disappeared.

They were tortured and then, while still alive, were dropped from a plane into the sea.

Ana Maria was also kidnapped and says Father Bergoglio helped win her release.

But rumors and questions are still debated in this country. Did Jorge Bergoglio, who was head of the Jesuits in Argentina during the Dirty War, look the other way?

Some militant Catholics even accuse him of doing the junta's bidding.

Bergoglio was reported to have abandoned two of his priests to the military, both of whom were accused of leftist activities, tortured and released after five months.

Bergoglio later testified that he tried to warn the priests before their abduction and then convinced the military to let them go.

There are journalists in Argentina, like the editor-in-chief of the English language Buenos Aires Herald, who continue to be uncomfortable about Bergoglio's role during the dictatorship.

As for Ana Maria Careaga, she says she does not know what Bergoglio was thinking during the Dirty War, but she did say that the church hierarchy was an accomplice to the dictators.

Meanwhile, her mother's body was retrieved after it washed up on shore, and is now buried in a church courtyard.

The junta collapsed after the ill-fated Falklands War against Britain, and democracy returned to Argentina.

But what they call the dark days still cast a long shadow here.

There won't be any celebrations here next year on the 40th anniversary of the Dirty War.