According to the story (and a new book), Pope Francis – when he was a priest in the 1970s and early 80s – rescued at least 1000 people using a secret network during Argentina’s “Dirty War”.
ROME – Perhaps the single public figure on the planet right now least in need of rehabilitation of his image is Pope Francis, who’s got poll numbers in most places of which politicians and celebrities alike can only dream.
Nevertheless, rehabilitation is precisely what Italian journalist Nello Scavo delivers in his new book Bergoglio’s List: The Untold Story of the People Saved by Francis during the Dictatorship, which was presented today at the headquarters of the Jesuit journal Civiltà Cattolica in Rome.
In reply to persistent charges that the young Fr. Jorge Mario Bergoglio was complicit in Argentina’s infamous “dirty war” from 1976 to 1983, when roughly 30,000 people disappeared, Scavo asserts that Bergoglio was actually a Jesuit version of Oskar Schindler – quietly saving lives rather than engaging in noisy public protest.
The future pope, Scavo writes, saved as many as a thousand targets of the military dictatorship by providing shelter in a Jesuit college, passing them off as seminarians or laity on retreat, then helping them move out of Argentina.
In one case, according to Scavo, Bergoglio gave a man who bore him a passing resemblance his own passport and priest’s clothing to make his escape.
In other cases, Scavo says, people were saved “indirectly” by Bergoglio, because the targets he helped stay out of prison would have named others who would also likely have been arrested and tortured.
Scavo provides names and details for roughly a dozen people rescued by Bergoglio and claims that each one of those people told him they knew “at least 20 or 30 more.” Taken together with the indirect effects of his actions, Scavo says, Bergoglio was arguably responsible for saving more than the 1,200 lives attributed to Schindler’s intervention during World War II.
One such survivor is today a mayor in Uruguay named Gonzalo Mosca, who was accompanied by Bergoglio onto the airplane that carried him to safety while being hunted by the police. Another is an Argentine lawyer and human rights activist named Alicia Oliveira, whose three small children were lodged in a Jesuit college by Bergoglio while she remained in hiding. Twice a week, she said, Bergoglio would take her to see her children, despite the fact that a warrant was out for her arrest.
“Nobody needs to explain to me who Jorge Bergoglio is,” she told Scavo. “He helped many persecuted people escape, putting his own life at risk.”
The rescued also include Alfredo Somoza, an atheist novelist who today lives in Milan, and Ana and Sergio Gobulin, a married couple now living in the Italian province of Pordenone. The pope has remained friends with the Gobulins, according to Scavo, speaking from time to time on the telephone.
Scavo claims the story of Bergoglio’s pipeline has been previously untold because Bergoglio himself has never called attention to it, and in fact the pope didn’t cooperate with the book project.
There are already plans for translations of the book in at least eight languages, including English, and there’s also been at least two proposals for a movie a-la “Schindler’s List.”