08 July 2014, The Tablet

Evidence from Francis helps convict bishop’s junta-era killers

An Argentine court on Friday condemned two former members of the country's 1976-83 military regime, Luciano Benjamín Menéndez and Luis Fernando Estrella, for the murder of Bishop Enrique Angelelli of La Rioja on 4 August 1976.

The judges described the murder as part of a campaign of “state terrorism”. Angelelli was killed when his car was forced off the road and overturned, and his death was officially declared to be the result of an accident. This version was largely accepted by the Argentine bishops – one archbishop said Angelelli died because he was a bad driver.

One factor in the verdict was the release by Pope Francis of correspondence from Bishop Angelelli to the nuncio in Argentina sent a fortnight before his death, in which the bishop described the threats he had received from the military and local landowners. At the time of his death he was returning from the funeral of two of his priests, Frs Carlos Murias and Gabriel Longueville, who had been murdered by the military, and also reported on this to the Vatican in the correspondence released by the Pope.

Bishop Angelelli, a frequent visitor to deprived communities, was well known for his support of trade unions and co-operatives, and declared that he worked “with one eye on the Gospel and one eye on the people”. The verdict, and the Pope's role, is a further step in the rehabilitation of the Argentine Church, whose leaders at the time were generally silent about the atrocities of the military regime, and in some cases complicit in them.

The Pope himself was part of that rehabilitation process when, in 2005, as archbishop of Buenos Aires, he celebrated a Mass in memory of Bishop Angelelli and described him as a martyr. Angelelli is also widely described as “Argentina's Romero”.

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