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Vatican denies then-bishop silent during dictatorship

| Friday, March 15, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
In this photo made available by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis delivers his speech as he meets the Cardinals for the first time after his election, at the Vatican, Friday, March 15, 2013. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano, ho)

VATICAN CITY — The honeymoon that Pope Francis has been enjoying hit a bump on Friday, with the Vatican lashing out at what it called a defamatory and “anti-clerical left-wing” media campaign questioning his actions during Argentina's military dictatorship.

On Day 2 of the Francis pontificate, the Vatican denounced news reports resurrecting allegations that the then-Bishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio failed to openly confront the junta responsible for kidnapping and killing thousands of people in a “dirty war” to eliminate leftist opponents.

Top church leaders had endorsed the junta, who ruled from 1976-83, and at least one priest worked alongside torturers inside prisons. No one has produced any evidence suggesting Bergoglio had anything to do with such crimes. But many activists are angry that as archbishop of Buenos Aires for more than a decade, he didn't do more to support investigations into the atrocities.

On Thursday, the old ghosts resurfaced.

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi noted that Argentine courts had never accused Bergoglio of any crime, and that he had denied all accusations against him.

He said the accusations against the pope were made long ago “by anti-clerical left-wing elements to attack the church. They must be firmly rejected.”

The worst allegation against the 76-year-old pope is that as the military junta took over in 1976, he withdrew support for two Jesuit priests whose work in the slums of Buenos Aires put them in direct contact with the leftist guerrilla movement advocating armed revolution. The priests were kidnapped and tortured by members of the military junta, who kept them inside a clandestine center at the Navy Mechanics School.

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