Church to declassify dictatorship files
Days before 40th anniversary of coup, CEA official says Vatican willing to help probes
Days after the White House announced that it will be declassifying dictatorship files requested by human rights organizations, the Vatican is set to follow the trend on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the last military coup.
“The archives related to dictatorships will be opened up,” Carlos Malfa confirmed yesterday, the secretary-general of the Argentine Synod (CEA) that is expected to be issuing a message today.
The announcement was celebrated by human rights leaders such as Ángela “Lita” Boitano, who last year met with Pope Francis to ask him to cooperate with the ongoing judicial investigations.
“These files are fundamental, so are the ones that are in the hands of the armed forces,” Boitano said yesterday. The human rights leader who travelled to Rome in April 2015 requested that the Holy See speed up the process after Malfa said that the files were being put in order before being released.
Following requests from the rights groups and the Attorney General’s Office, Jorge Bergoglio had already agreed to cooperate with the investigations in the country, though the process was a bit complex, activists said.
“The Church has already been cooperating,” Estela Barnes de Carlotto, the head of Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, explained to the Herald last week before the disclosure was announced.
“However, when you ask for a file you have to give detailed information and it has to be requested by judicial authorities,” she also said, noting that she trusted on Francis’ intentions to release the information.
According to Boitano, Bergoglio told her last year that the Church was going to critically assess its role during the era of state terror, when priests were seen in clandestine detention centres and there are reports that they even greenlighted the so-called death flights.
Bergoglio himself has been under fire for having reportedly been involved in the abduction of two priests and filed a written statement in the trial into the systematic plan for child appropriation amid suspicion that he could be aware of baby-snatching cases during the era of state terror.
A blessed announcement
“Putting the files in order takes time,” Malfa explained yesterday, but he made it clear progress were being made in the Holy See.
“In general, these are letters that were received requesting to know the whereabouts of the detained and the disappeared or some similar process. There are also newspapers clippings from that time,” he explained. However, the rights groups want the Church authorities to hand over internal files such as the ones Monsignor Emilio Grasselli had or individual records from priests and nuns who could have been in touch with prisoners.
For instance, during the 2012 trial into baby-snatching cases, a group of nuns appeared as witnesses as they looked after pregnant women who were taken to the Campo de Mayo military hospital to give birth to their babies while they were illegally held in that military garrison or in other clandestine detention centres.
The Attorney General’s Unit for Cases of Child Appropriation has also requested that the Church hand over baptism certificates as investigators believe that those who stole the babies sometimes acted as their godfathers.
“We cannot give a date but we are working,” Malfa affirmed ahead of the 40th anniversary of the coup that marked the start of the last military dictatorship, when thousands were forcibly disappeared and about 500 babies appropriated.
On March 23, Francis will be meeting a group of relatives of victims of enforced disappearances.
Marie-Noelle Erize Tisseau, whose sister Marie-Anne was kidnapped in San Juan province in 1976, will be shaking hands with Bergoglio along with Víctor Carvajal, whose brother Alberto was also abducted by a death squad in 1977. They will be joined by Genevieve Jeanningros, the niece of Leonie Duquet, one of the two French nuns kidnapped by Alfredo Astiz in December 1977 and taken to the Navy Mechanics School (ESMA). Duquet’s remains were identified in 2005 thanks to the efforts of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF)
Cecilia Romero, Salvadorian Monsignor Oscar Romero’s niece, will also participate in the hearing. Romero was killed in 1980 while he was delivering a homily.
According to daily La Nación, the CEA will be unveiling a message today aimed at praising democracy and calling on healing the past wounds.
Last year, sectors of the Church said it was time to limit the proceedings for crimes against humanity.
In September, the Catholic Church gave lukewarm support to continuing the trials against perpetrators of crimes against humanity yesterday, pointing out that forgiveness and reconciliation are “gifts from God.”
The head of the Argentine Synod, José María Arancedo, told human rights groups in a letter that was made public on September 4 that the Catholic Church did not endorse the suspension of proceedings against those who committed crimes during the 1976-1983 dictatorship.
“The position of the Argentine Synod has not changed,” Arancedo wrote in a letter addressed to the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), Mothers of Plaza de Mayo—Founding Line, Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo and Relatives of Detainees-Disappeared for Political Reasons.
The rights groups publicly wondered whether the Catholic Church had changed its mind on supporting trials against repressors after Bishop Emeritus of San Isidro Jorge Casaretto, who said at the UCA panel that reconciliation had to be a political goal after the end of the Kirchnerite era.
“No political force speaks about reconciliation these days. It is a taboo for elections, but reconciliation has to be in Argentina’s future agenda. We’ll have to wait until after the elections and insist,” Casaretto had said at the UCA conference.
“In Argentina, we prioritize justice but it is not totally impartial,” he had also stated, noting that the judicial proceedings against repressors often appeared to seek vengeance rather than justice.
In 2014, Arancedo shot a video alongside Barnes de Carlotto and her number two, Rosa Roisinblit, calling on parishioners to cooperate with information that could help the human rights organization founded in 1977 to find the babies snatched from their mothers during the last dictatorship.