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Priest says saved by Pope during Argentina ‘dirty war’

A Spanish priest said on Friday that Pope Francis saved his life and that another priest threatened by a right wing death squad in Argentina during the mid 1970s.

Father Jose Caravias, currently based in Paraguay, said the pope — then known as Jorge Bergoglio — warned him and a fellow priest that a rightwing militia called Triple A intended to kill them.

“I had been expelled from Paraguay in 1972. I knew the ferocity of the dictatorship” and left the country, he told AFP. At the time of the threat, he was working with other priests in the slums of Buenos Aires.

He said the other priest, Francisco Jalics, “was brave and stayed in Buenos Aires, and it nearly cost him his life. He would not go and he had a terrible time. He was severely tortured,” he said.

“Bergoglio saved him. He insisted on finding out where he was being held. If he had not been claimed he would have died,” he said, adding that Bergoglio had saved another priest, Orlando Yorio, in the same way.

“Thanks to Bergoglio, I am alive and talking with you today,” Caravias said, dismissing as “terrible slander” allegations that Bergoglio turned a blind eye to the abuses of the military.

Argentina’s 1976-83 “dirty war” — in which some 30,000 people were killed or disappeared by a rightwing military junta — has come under a spotlight since Cardinal Bergoglio’s election as pope this month.

The Vatican has vehemently denied charges by an Argentine journalist that Bergoglio was complicit in the 1976 kidnapping and torture of Yorio and Jalics, who were released five months later.

The Argentine judge hearing the case of the two priests, German Castelli, has also rejected the charges, telling a newspaper it is “totally false” to suggest that Bergoglio was implicated in their arrest and torture.

Bergoglio, then the archbishop of Buenos Aires, testified about the Jesuits’ kidnapping in a 2010 trial, according to a clip of his testimony posted by the newspaper Clarin on its website.

Bergoglio said he had discussed the regime’s killing of clergymen with priests working with the poor, who would have been more susceptible to charges of sympathizing with the leftwing opposition.