Australia archbishop says pope junta claims 'a lie'

Australia's most senior Catholic cleric on Friday spoke out about controversy over the role of Pope Francis under Argentina's military junta, calling it "a smear and lie".

Argentine cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio's election as the new pontiff has revived examination of the part he played during the dark days of his homeland's "Dirty War", when he was a leading member of the Jesuits.

Some accuse him and his country's Church of having been too close to the brutal right-wing junta in power between 1976 and 1983.

But Sydney Archbishop George Pell, one of the men who took part in the conclave to elect the new pope, said it was old slander.

Asked by ABC radio whether the pope should make a statement to address the concerns, Pell replied: "No, not at all.

"Those stories have been dismissed years and years ago," he said.

"The head of Amnesty International at the time said those charges were completely false. They were a smear and a lie and they've been laid to rest years ago."

In 2010, Bergoglio was questioned as a witness by judges probing the arrest and torture of two young Jesuits, Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics, who were taken to the notorious Naval School of Mechanics in March 1976.

It was known as a torture centre during Argentina's so-called Dirty War, in which government agents targeted suspected left-wing activists, tens of thousands of whom were "disappeared".

Yorio and Jalics were freed alive after five months.

Bergoglio 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.

He was also questioned in two more investigations into alleged regime crimes, but no charges were brought and he denied any wrongdoing.

Pell said the cardinals did not consider this part of Bergoglio's history when electing him, ABC reported.