Argentine Church Faces "Dirty War" Past





A simple wooden cross hanging from his neck, the Rev. Rubén Capitanio sat before a microphone on Monday and did what few Argentine priests before him had dared to do: condemn the Roman Catholic Church for its complicity in the atrocities committed during Argentina’s “dirty war.”

“The attitude of the church was scandalously close to the dictatorship” that killed more than 15,000 Argentines and tortured tens of thousands more, the priest told a panel of three judges here, “to such an extent that I would say it was of a sinful degree.” The panel is deciding the fate of the Rev. Christian von Wernich, a priest accused of conspiring with the military who has become for many a powerful symbol of the church’s role.

The church “was like a mother that did not look for her children,” Father Capitanio added. “It did not kill anybody, but it did not save anybody, either.”

Father Capitanio’s mea culpa came nearly a quarter century after the junta was toppled in 1983 and democracy was restored. But in some ways, it occurred at just the right time. Through the trial of Father von Wernich, Argentina is finally confronting the church’s dark past during the dirty war, when it sometimes gave its support to the military as it went after leftist opponents.


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