Pope Francis and the Jálics case: “I am innocent, some in the government wanted to ‘cut off my head'”

The Pontiff speaks of the case of the two Jesuits locked up in the ESMA dungeons at the time of the military regime in Argentina: “Legend that I would have been the one to hand them over to be imprisoned”

The Pope, during his conversation with the Jesuits in Hungary, was also asked about his relationship with Father Ferenc Jálics, the Jesuit who was locked up in the Esma dungeon. The military regime tried to involve the then provincial Father Bergoglio who instead worked to save him.

“Fathers Ferenc Jálics and Orlando Yorio worked in a popular neighborhood and worked well. Jálics – the Pope recounted during the dialogue with the Hungarian Jesuits announced today by the director of Civiltà Cattolica, Father Antonio Spadaro – was my spiritual father and confessor during the first and second year of theology. In the neighborhood where he worked there was a guerrilla cell. But the two Jesuits had nothing to do with them: they were pastors, not politicians. But they were taken prisoner by innocents. They found nothing to accuse them of, but they had to spend nine months in prison, enduring threats and torture. Then they were released, but these things leave deep wounds. Jálics came to me right away and we talked. I advised him to go to his mother in the United States. The situation was far too confused and uncertain. Then the legend developed that it was I who handed them over to be imprisoned. Know that a month ago the Argentine Bishops’ Conference published two volumes of the three planned with all the documents relating to what happened between the Church and the military. Find everything there.”

Bergoglio told the Jesuits that “when the military left, Jálics asked me for permission to come to Argentina for a course of spiritual exercises. I had him come, and we also celebrated Mass together. Then I saw him again as Archbishop and then again as Pope: he came to Rome to see me. We had always kept this relationship. But when he last came to see me in the Vatican, I could see that he was suffering because he didn’t know how to talk to me. There was a distance. The wounds of those past years remained in both me and him, because we both experienced that persecution”.

Some in the government wanted to ‘cut off my head’, and they brought up not so much this problem of Jálics, but they questioned my whole way of acting during the dictatorship. So they sued me. I – the Pope explained – was given the possibility of choosing where to hold the interrogation. I chose to do it in episcope. It lasted 4 hours and 10 minutes. One of the judges was very insistent on my behavior. I have always answered truthfully. But, from my point of view, the only serious question, with foundation, well asked, came from the lawyer who belonged to the communist party. And thanks to that question, things cleared up. Eventually, my innocence was established. But in that judgment almost nothing was mentioned about Jàlics, but about other cases of people who had asked for help”.

“Then I saw two of those judges again here in Rome as Pope. One together with a group of Argentines. I hadn’t recognized him, but I had the impression that I had seen him. I watched it, I watched it. I said to myself: ‘But I know him’. He hugged me and walked away. I then saw him again and he introduced himself. I told him: ‘I deserve a punishment a hundred times, but not for that reason’. I told him to be at peace with this story. Yes, I deserve a judgment for my sins, but I want to be clear on this point. Another of the three judges also came, and he clearly told me that they had been instructed by the government to convict me. But I want to add that when Jálics and Yorio were taken by the military, the situation in Argentina was confused and it was not at all clear what should be done. I did what I felt like doing to defend them. It was a very painful story. Jalics was a good man, a man of God, a man who sought God.”