The Vatican pushed back Friday against claims that Pope Francis failed to protect two fellow Jesuit priests who were kidnapped during Argentina's military dictatorship.
The accusations have resurfaced since the Argentine cardinal's unexpected election to the papacy two days ago.
A book by investigative reporter Horacio Verbitsky accuses Francis, who was then Jorge Mario Bergoglio and was head of the country's Jesuit order, of deliberately failing to protect the two priests, Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics, when they were seized by the navy. They were found alive five months later.
But the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, dismissed the claims -- which date back to Argentina's so-called Dirty War from 1976 to 1983 -- as false and defamatory.
"The campaign against Bergoglio is well-known and goes back to many years ago. It was promoted by a defamatory publication," Lombardi said at a Vatican news conference.
"This was never a concrete or credible accusation in his regard. He was questioned by an Argentinian court as someone aware of the situation but never as a defendant. He has, in documented form, denied any accusations," said Lombardi.
"Instead, there have been many declarations demonstrating how much Bergoglio did to protect many persons at the time of the military dictatorship," he said.
His role after he became bishop of Buenos Aires in asking for forgiveness for the church for not having done enough at the time of the dictatorship "is also well-known," Lombardi said.
A fellow Vatican spokesman, the Rev Thomas Rosica, said the accusations "reveal left-wing elements, anti-clerical elements that are used to attack the church. They must be firmly and clearly denied."
The Vatican has a lot of experience in dealing with negative publicity campaigns against individuals or the church, he said.