Argentine grandmothers attack Pope Francis over 'Dirty War' era

BUENOS AIRES (AFP) - An Argentinian human rights group set up to find babies stolen during the country's "Dirty War" on Friday accused newly elected Pope Francis of failing to speak out against the country's former military rulers.

The famous Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo organisation, founded in 1977 to help locate children kidnapped during the military era, said Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, had not done enough to help victims of rights abuses.

The criticism came amid heightened scrutiny of Pope Francis's actions during Argentina's "Dirty War" in which 30,000 people died or disappeared from 1976 to 1983.

Earlier Friday, the Vatican rejected claims Pope Francis had failed to do all he could to protect two priests kidnapped and tortured during military rule, when he was head of the Jesuit order in Argentina at the time.

However the head of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Estela Carlotto, joined the chorus of criticism surrounding the new pontiff.

"The Grandmothers have reproaches for the new pontiff," Carlotto told reporters.

"He has never spoken of the problem of people who had disappeared under dictatorial rule, and 30 years have already passed since our return to democracy."

Carlotto's daughter, Laura, was abducted and killed during military rule after being taken to a secret detention centre. A baby boy she gave birth to while in custody has never been found.

Carlotto said she had expected the Argentinian clergy to help during the years of rights abuses.

"I am a Catholic, and many of us sought help from the church in the first years of dictatorship because we believed that bishops were on our side," said Carlotto.

But she said the church hierarchy had "deeply disappointed" her.

In 2010, Bergoglio was questioned as a witness by judges probing the arrest and torture of the two young Jesuits.

Bergoglio, the first pope from Latin America, was alleged to have betrayed the young missionaries to the regime because they had become opposition sympathisers and he wanted to preserve the Jesuits' political neutrality.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.