Photo via El País

The Argentine Synod announced yesterday that it will provide Federal Judge Sergio Torres with documentation containing information regarding 127 baptisms conducted between 1975 and 1984 in the chapel of the Escuela Mecánica de la Armada (commonly known as ESMA), the largest clandestine detention center during the last dictatorship.

The judge had requested the documents after news of its finding surfaced recently, and aims at establishing a mechanism to make that information available to the public.

“We have the firm conviction that the Church must increase its efforts to contribute to the path towards memory, truth and justice in all areas, especially taking into account the gravity of the crimes against humanity perpetrated during the period of state terrorism between 1976 and 1983,” reads a passage of the press release issued by the Synod.

The Catholic Church, especially its leaders, have long been criticized for their silence and complicity regarding the atrocities being committed in the country at the time. Furthermore, certain clergymen had close relationships with leaders of the military Junta.

The Vatican’s Ambassador to Buenos Aires Monsignor Pio Laghi is, for example, said to have regularly played tennis with Admiral Emilio Massera, one of the most brutal military leaders of that time.

Moreover, a chaplain of the Buenos Aires Province Police during the dictatorship, Cristian Von Wernich, was convicted of crimes against humanity in 2007. Following the testimony of numerous witnesses who confirmed his involvement in crimes committed in different clandestine detention centers, he was found guilty of 34 counts of kidnapping, 31 of torture and seven murders.

The release goes on to point out that “these documents can be within the reach of prestigious human rights organizations, as well as researchers coming from diverse academic fields.”


It is estimated that more than 5,000 people were held in the ESMA at some point during the dictatorship. Only about 500 made it out alive. A clandestine maternity center was operational during that period, given the large number of women who gave birth in captivity.

The Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo estimate that  over 500 children were given or sold to allies of the dictatorship. So far, they have found 127 of them. In order to continue striving to find these children, they created a National Genetic Data Bank in order to identify them using the DNA of the relatives of their parents.

The complicity of the Church in the abuses committed by the dictatorship of 1973-1986 was recognized for the first time by the Argentine judiciary in February 2013 during the trial of military repressors. “Surely the members of God’s people, as well all Argentine society, expect from an institution as significant as the Church a clearer attitude of rejection” toward the human rights abuses committed during the dictatorship.

These words were spoken by the judges of the tribunal that tried, among others, late repressor Luciano Benjamín Menéndez (in one of the several cases against him).