Was Pope Francis a kind of Oskar Schindler? To Nello Scavo, author of a new book, the similarities with the heroic German industrialist are clear.
He contends that during Argentina’s "dirty war" in the 1970s and 80s, the Pope, then Jesuit Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio, directly and indirectly saved over 1,000 lives.
The startling revelations appear in “The List of Bergoglio: Those Saved by Pope Francis; Stories Never Told,” just published in Italian and soon to appear in English.
Scavo reveals how Bergoglio masterminded a secret strategy to save those targeted in a clandestine war of suspected dissidents waged by Argentina’s military Junta. He took “great personal risks,” Scavo tells Newsmax, adding that accusations Bergoglio was complicit in assisting the military regime “are built on sand.”
“The picture that emerges of Bergoglio is that of a capable man, who acted with the prudence and shrewdness of a 007,” Scavo says. He adds Bergoglio never wanted to talk about his efforts, nor has he collaborated on the book. But the author, a journalist with the Italian bishops’ newspaper Avvenire, said he had collected dozens of accounts from witnesses of different periods, some who knew him and others who didn’t.
From these, Scavo cautiously estimates that Bergoglio “certainly saved” more than 100 lives, adding many others were “indirectly saved” by the Jesuit priest.
At a book launch in Rome on Oct. 7, he put the figure at more than 1,200 lives saved directly and indirectly, exceeding the number of Jews rescued by Schindler during World War II.
Some have questioned Scavo’s math, but his research suggests that the number of lives, and the personal risks Bergoglio took, were considerable.
Scavo says Bergoglio hid students in the Maximo College of San Miguel, about 20 miles from Buenos Aires. Even his fellow Jesuits were unaware of his actions, believing the new arrivals were youngsters in the process of spiritual discernment or seminarians on retreat.
“During those ‘retreats’ and while Bergoglio was on retreat, he studied plans to best keep them away from the military or allow them to flee the country, running great personal risk,” Scavo says. “In many cases, he himself took them by car to safety; it is easy to imagine what might have happened to him if the police found him in the company of a wanted man.”
Scavo says Bergoglio used his sphere of influence, and friendships and knowledge in order to obtain small, individual favors. He enlisted the support of those who could make documents to travel abroad, or who could share news on arrests and kidnappings, and devised an escape network, also with other Jesuits, which allowed them to flee the country.
“His formation as a Jesuit certainly helped him to use every trick against the regime, but at the center of its activities was the protection of human life,” Scavo explains. “His culture, his formation, his spirituality allowed him to courageously face extremely risky challenges, without wishing for personal gain, even at the risk of his own life and reputation.”
Bergoglio saved not only young people but also unionists, priests, intellectuals, and others. But his record during the 1976-1983 Argentine dictatorship was not without controversy.
As head of the Jesuits in Argentina from 1973-1979, the future Pope was accused of complicity with the regime.
Critics have said he was too silent about the human rights abuses taking place at that time, though supporters stress that Bergoglio’s caution was an act of prudence, allowing him to save as many lives as he could.
Priests, nuns, and bishops were killed by the junta and they argue that, like Pius XII during World War II, Bergoglio felt he could save more lives by staying alive and helping in a clandestine fashion. Furthermore, his position was relatively junior and unlikely to have carried much weight even if he had spoken out more.
A further accusation is that he denounced two Jesuits to the regime. Franz Jalics, now living in Germany, and Orlando Yorio, who has since died, were once convinced that Francis had turned them in, leading to five months’ imprisonment and torture. The regime viewed their work for the poor with suspicion, and suspected they supported the guerrillas.
The two were reconciled with Bergoglio in 2000.
Jalics has since carried out his own investigation and found Bergoglio not to have been involved in the denunciation. He also made a declaration, soon after Francis’ inauguration as Pope, in which he retracted earlier statments: “The fact is, Orlando Yorio and I were not denounced by Father Bergoglio.” The Jesuit was received in private audience by the Pope at the Vatican on Oct. 5.
Scavo’s book reveals that, once Jalics and Yorio were kidnapped, Bergoglio sought to free the two men by arranging a risky face-to-face meeting with a fierce head of the navy at the time in a bid to secure their release.
Numbers of lives saved aside, Scavo’s book suggests that his courage and willingness to lay down his life for others proves Bergoglio was a hero.
Edward Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002. He has covered the Pope and the Holy See for a number of publications, including Newsweek, and The Sunday Times. Read more reports from Edward Pentin — Click Here Now.
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