Fr Franz Jalics, a Hungarian Jesuit whose 1976 detainment by Argentina’s military dictatorship raised questions about Pope Francis’ role during his country’s Dirty War, has died at age 93.
The priest died on February 13 in Budapest. Jalics found himself reluctantly at the centre of a controversy in March 2013 when Jorge Bergoglio, his former Jesuit superior in Argentina, became Pope Francis.
The new Pope was accused of not having helped the Hungarian and other Jesuits that were targeted by the Argentine military dictatorship. Jalics and another priest, Orlando Yorio, preached in shantytowns and were arrested in March 1976 by an extreme right-wing paramilitary group. They were taken to a detention centre known for its cruelty, the Navy Petty-Officers School (ESMA), and tortured before being released five months later. But in 2003 an Argentine journalist, Horacio Verbitsky, accused Bergoglio of having “abandoned” his two Jesuit confreres.
The Vatican firmly rejected the accusations when they resurfaced in the days immediately following Bergoglio being elected as Bishop of Rome. And in the weeks and months afterwards, numerous witnesses came forth with testimonials about the “silent diplomacy” Bergoglio undertook to secure the priests’ release and protect leftist students hounded by the regime. The newly elected Pope Francis said he had gone through “a period of great inner crisis” at the time of the junta and admitted that he had made mistakes while he was at the head of the Argentine province of the Society of Jesus.