Judge in 'Dirty War' case slams 'false' claims against Pope

BUENOS AIRES (AFP) - An Argentinian judge in charge of the "Dirty War" case concerning two priests who were arrested and tortured has rejected claims that Pope Francis played a role in the crime, according to remarks published on Saturday.

Judge German Castelli told La Nacion that it was "totally false" to suggest that Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as the Pontiff was then known, had been complicit in turning over the priests to Argentina's military rulers in 1976.

"It is totally false to say that Jorge Bergoglio delivered these priests. We addressed this issue, we heard the allegations, we reviewed the facts, and we felt there was no case to answer. If we had done, we would have prosecuted," Judge Castelli told the paper.

"There cannot be any questions about it because a court has cleared him," he added.

Francis' actions during Argentina's 1976-1983 "Dirty War" - when 30,000 people died or disappeared under the country's brutal military junta - have come under scrutiny since his election as pope on Wednesday.

The Vatican on Friday also condemned claims the Pope had been indirectly involved in the abduction of the two priests.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said: "There has never been a credible, concrete accusation against him. The Argentinian justice system... has never charged him with anything." He said the campaign against Francis was "well known" but claimed it was defamatory and aimed at discrediting the Church.

"The accusations come from parts of the anti-clerical left to attack the Church and must be denied," he said, insisting that Francis "did a lot to protect people during the dictatorship".