Updated 03/16/2013 10:08 AM
Pope Francis' Actions During Argentina's "Dirty War" Still Controversial In Buenos Aires
The election of Pope Francis has led to mixed reactions in his home country of Argentina, where some residents are upset with allegations that he allowed two activist priests to be kidnapped during the country's "dirty war." NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.
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BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA - In Buenos Aires, there is both great pride, and quick condemnation, for the local boy turned cardinal who is now a barrier-breaking pope.
It's a polarized reaction that fits a country marked by sharp and, at times, violent political divisions.
Jorge Bergoglio, as his friends can't help still calling Pope Francis, has always been a staunch conservative.
"The reaction here is very mixed," said Juan Nahuel Aguayo. "It's mixed because he is not the best representative of Argentina."
Really good things to Argentina, because this reaction of new pope gives us hope. And this is a country with a lot of problems," said Christian Cinalli.
Argentines verified the now-famous stories of the humble man who rode city buses and crowded subways wearing humble black, not cardinal red. They said the pope's humility and commitment to the poor are indisputable.
"He is very simple man," said Father Ignacio Rafael Garcia-Mata. "He is more a parish man, a pastor of a parish, then a bishop."
Garcia-Mata, one of Bergoglio's oldest friends, said that when they were young, other priests teasingly called him "La Gioconda", or the Mona Lisa, because it was impossible to know what he was thinking.
"Mystery face. 'Impenetrable,'" Garcia-Mata said. "Maybe you don't know what he's thinking about."
But they do know what he will think of the Vatican's opulence.
"He doesn't like any 'pompa,' any pomp and circumstances," Garcia-Mata said. "How to change the Vatican with all its riches is not easy. But there are ways, simple ways."
Garcia-Mata dismissed allegations that Bergoglio allowed two activist priests to be kidnapped by the military dictatorship while he was the leader of the Jesuit order in Argentina during the country's so-called dirty war.
"It's a false accusation," Garcia-Mata said. "Maybe, as a pastor, maybe he didn't take enough the position to protect those priests. But he couldn't imagine what was going to happen. You can say the same against me or any other priest. Maybe we didn't have the courage to express our rage against the dictatorship. I know that he was very, very worried about these prisoners and used all things possible to liberate them."
A Vatican spokesperson called the reports regarding Pope Francis' leadership in Argentina "defamatory," adding he did everything he could to protect his fellow priests.
But not all Argentines agree. They are sharply divided over whether Bergoglio was permanently stained by his actions, or inactions, during that period.
"The pope has a dark past," Aguayo said.
"Simple pope. Very beautiful person," said Pablo Visanten.
Whether friend, critic or admirer, most Argentines said they are still just absorbing the unexpected news and the potential impact it will have on their country, continent and the Catholic faith.