Pope Francis is known for his humility and reluctance to talk about himself. This self-effacement, admirers say, is why he has hardly ever denied one of the harshest allegations against him: that he was among church leaders who actively supported Argentina's murderous dictatorship, according to an AP report in The Sydney Morning Herald.
It is without dispute that Jorge Mario Bergoglio, like most other Argentines, failed to openly confront the 1976-83 junta while it was kidnapping and killing thousands of people in a ''dirty war'' to eliminate leftist opponents.
But the new Pope's authorised biographer, Sergio Rubin, argues that this was a failure of the Catholic Church in general, and that it is unfair to label Pope Francis with the collective guilt many Argentines of his generation still deal with.
''In some way, many of us Argentines ended up being accomplices'' at a time when anyone who spoke out could be targeted, Rubin recalled in an interview just before the conclave.
''Perhaps he didn't have the courage of other priests but he never collaborated with the dictatorship,'' Adolfo Perez Esquivel, who won the 1980 Nobel peace prize for documenting the junta's atrocities, said on Thursday.
Rubin, a religious affairs writer for the Argentine newspaper Clarin, said Pope Francis actually took major risks to save so-called ''subversives'' during the dictatorship but never spoke about it publicly before his 2010 biography, The Jesuit.
He said he once passed his Argentine identity papers to a wanted man with a similar appearance, enabling him to escape over the border to Brazil, and added that many times he sheltered people inside church properties before they were safely delivered into exile.
The most damning accusation against the new Pope is that as the young leader of Argentina's Jesuit order, he withdrew his support for two slum priests whose activist colleagues in the liberation theology movement were disappearing. The priests were then kidnapped and tortured at the navy mechanics school, which the junta used as a clandestine prison.
Pope Francis said he had told the priests - Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics - to give up their slum work for their own safety, and they refused.
But Father Yorio later accused the future Pope of effectively delivering them to the death squads by declining to publicly endorse their work. He is now dead, and Father Jalics has refused to discuss these events since moving into a German monastery.
Rubin said the future Pope only reluctantly told him the rest of the story: that he had gone to extraordinary lengths behind the scenes to save them.
Then in his 30s, the Jesuit leader persuaded the family priest of feared dictator Jorge Videla to call in sick so that he could say Mass instead. Once inside the junta leader's home, the future pontiff privately appealed for mercy, Rubin wrote.
FULL STORY Biographer says Pope Francis quietly saved junta victims (SMH)