Priest gets life sentence over Argentina junta killings

This video from Argentina is called Von Wernich – Genocidas en Argentina.

From AFP news agency:

LA PLATA, Argentina – A Roman Catholic priest who compared himself to Jesus Christ was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday for collaborating in murders, kidnappings and torture during Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship.

Christian Von Wernich, 69, was chaplain to the Buenos Aires police force. He used this position to obtain confessions from prisoners, which he then passed on to police who tortured them at secret detention centers.

Von Wernich was convicted of complicity in seven murders, 31 cases of torture and 42 abductions in the Buenos Aires region; a mere smattering of the estimated 30,000 disappearances during the military junta’s countrywide purge of leftists.

Von Wernich, the first priest sentenced in Argentina for abuses under the military dictatorship, displayed no emotion as he heard his life sentence, sitting behind a thick pane of glass and wearing a bullet-proof jacket.

Testifying earlier in his defense, he compared himself to Jesus Christ “who was put on trial with support from the people, who asked that he be crucified.”

He accused the witnesses in his trial — all survivors of the torture chambers — of being possessed by the devil. …

Hundreds of people following the trial celebrated the sentence with songs, by setting off fireworks, and by torching an effigy of Von Wernich.

“Justice has been done. This is a historic day we Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo never thought we’d live to see,” said Tati Almeyda, a member of the group that for 30 years has been pressing for the identification of the victims of the military repression, many of them close family members.

“That a court has acknowledged that genocide exists in our country is an encouragement for us to carry on and justifies so many years of struggle,” Adriana Calvo, of the Association of former Detainees and the Missing told AFP.

The government’s Secretary for Human Rights Eduardo Duhalde welcomed the verdict and said: “Now we think it should be followed up with sentences for all those found guilty of illegal repression.”

The Catholic Church, in a statement issued immediately after the verdict was announced, said it was stricken with pain at seeing “a priest participating in very serious crimes.”

See also here.

BUENOS AIRES, Feb 1, 2010 (IPS) – More than two years after he was sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity committed during the 1976-1983 dictatorship in Argentina, former police chaplain Christian von Wernich has not been penalised by the Catholic Church: here.

A book of the collected writings of over 100 women who were political prisoners during Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship, a symbol of what it means to fight for freedom and justice from inside a prison, was launched in Spain: here.

The leaders of Argentina’s Jewish community — the largest in Latin America — published in book form a report on Jewish victims of forced disappearance in the 1976-1983 dictatorship, who faced especial brutality because of their ethnic origin. See here.

Argentina’s new president, Ms Kirchner: here.

14 thoughts on “Priest gets life sentence over Argentina junta killings

  1. Oct 9, 10:44 PM EDT

    Dirty War case: Argentine priest guilty

    Associated Press Writer

    LA PLATA, Argentina (AP) — A Catholic priest accused in a series of deaths and kidnappings during Argentina’s Dirty War was convicted and sentenced to life in prison Tuesday

    Former police chaplain Christian von Wernich was found guilty of being a “co-participant” with police in seven homicides, 31 torture cases and 42 kidnappings, ending a trial that has focused attention on the church during the 1976-83 military rule.

    Hundreds of people beat drums and set off fireworks outside the federal courthouse after the verdict was announced. Dozens of spectators cheered inside the packed courtroom including headscarved members of rights group the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who for the last 30 years have been seeking to learn the fate of sons and daughters who disappeared during a crackdown on dissent.

    “At last, at last! My God, it’s a conviction!” said Tati Almeyda, of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. “We never thought we’d see this day. Justice has been served.”

    Von Wernich earlier in the day professed his innocence: “False testimony is of the devil because he is responsible for malice and is the father of evil and lies.”

    On Monday a prosecutor recommended a life prison sentence for von Wernich, 69, saying the priest had been linked by survivors to at least five clandestine detention camps in Buenos Aires province.

    “Do people really understand what a clandestine torture center was? Do people know all the terror that went on in those places?” prosecutor Carlos Dulau said.

    During months of trial, more than 70 witnesses testified and judges toured former torture centers at police stations with survivors. The dirty war officially left some 13,000 dead or missing, although human rights groups have put the toll at nearly 30,000.

    Defense lawyer Juan Martin Cerolini argued Tuesday that von Wernich as a priest was obliged to visit police detention centers as part of his duties. But Cerolini insisted that role did not mean von Wernich had any part in a state crackdown.

    Cerolini rejected survivor testimony suggesting von Wernich – who has worn a bulletproof vest over his clerical collar during the trial – conspired with police to help extract information from prisoners subject to torture under the guise of giving them spiritual assistance.

    “Von Wernich never kidnapped, tortured or killed anyone,” Cerolini said. He charged that the trial was unjust and that the government is failing to prosecute “terrorist acts” committed by former leftist rebels against state security forces.

    Von Wernich said in his last words to the judges that he never violated the priestly prohibition against revealing information obtained in the Roman Catholic sacrament of confession.

    “No priest of the Catholic church … has ever violated this sacrament,” he said.

    Argentina’s Catholic Church, which withheld comment during the months of trial, said on its Web site that it was “moved by the pain” brought about by the priest’s conviction for what constituted “serious crimes.”

    “We believe the steps taken by the justice system in clarifying events (of the past) should serve us to renew the forces of all citizens on the path to reconciliation,” said the statement, which urged Argentines to put away “hate and rancor.”

    The statement did not address public criticism surrounding the trial that the church failed to vigorously defend human rights during the dictatorship.

    However, defenders of the church over the years have rejected such charges, saying several priests and nuns were among those killed during the junta years.

    Activists said they hoped von Wernich’s conviction would encourage other courts to move forward with pending cases against scores of other former security agents.

    Critics say the disappearance of a key witness during last year’s trial of former police chief Miguel Etchecolatz has had a chilling effect on efforts to prosecute those cases. Etchecolatz was convicted in September 2006 in the same La Plata courthouse.

    The trials came after the Supreme Court in 2005 annulled a pair of 1980s amnesty laws blocking prosecution of scores of former state security agents or their civilian allies.

    © 2007 The Associated Press.


  2. i can not remember witch priest said once,”i you give bread to the people you are holly.if you ask why it is that the people do not have it and find a begin of a solution you are a communist”
    It was what a “people’s priest”‘ said,one of few who dare to fight,in Brazil…
    Beside that the guy will go out of it because he will be found to old (over 5 years or so)


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