Pope Francis helps bring Argentine bishop’s killers to justice

Documents provided by Pope Francis have been used in a trial which saw two retired Argentine military officers found guilty of murdering a bishop.

Bishop Enrique Angelelli of the north-western La Rioja diocese in Argentina was murdered in 1976 when the vehicle he was driving was forced from the road.

This was at the beginning of the country’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship.

The military regime claimed that Bishop Angelelli, then 53, was killed in a car accident.

At the time, Bishop Angelelli was active in labour unions and was an outspoken campaigner for workers’ rights.

In 2006, then-Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio called Bishop Angelelli a “martyr”.

Before his death, Bishop Angelelli had sent letters to the Holy See saying that torture was a common practice in his province and that he was facing death threats.

Current La Rioja bishop Marcelo Colombo requested those letters from Pope Francis and they played a key role in the trial.

The killing of the bishop happened shortly after two priests were abducted from a church in El Chamical, taken to an Air Force base and tortured.

Their blindfolded bodies were found in waste land.

On the day he was killed, Bishop Angelelli was carrying a document to file a report on the murder of the two priests.

The La Rioja court stated that what happened to Bishop Angelelli in 1976 was part of the machinery of state terrorism and that the bishop’s murder was a crime against humanity.

Ex-general Luciano Menendez, 87, was found guilty of ordering the murder of Bishop Angelelli.

Retired commodore Luis Estrella was also found guilty.

Both were sentenced to life imprisonment.

Their indictment happened after a now-former priest travelling in the vehicle with Bishop Angelelli confirmed they had been forced from the road.

It is the first time that a junta-era official has been found guilty in the killing of a high-ranking church cleric.

Menendez had earlier been found guilty in seven cases of human rights abuses and was already serving a life sentence.

Further investigations into how Bishop Angelelli’s killing was covered up have been ordered.

Scores of Catholic priests and nuns “disappeared” and were tortured and killed during the dictatorship years.

Thousands of other Argentines suffered the same fate.


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