A judge will decide in the next few days whether to press criminal charges against Father Christian von Wernich. Arrested on Wednesday, he is a former police chaplain who has been the target of street protests over the last decade.
Von Wernich is one of the best known Argentine priests accused by state prosecutors of collaborating with the military during the 1976-1983 dictatorship. In the military regime’s Dirty War against leftists, up to 30,000 people were left dead.
“Part of the accusation is for extracting information from detainees to make them ‘pay for their sins’,” said Alicia Peralta, a lawyer for the Permanent Assembly of Human Rights that is representing many of the victims families.
In testimony to government commissions, victims have accused the priest of trying to make detainees give information to the police and military. Victims said he befriended them, tried to become their confidant and urged them to collaborate with their torturers, Peralta said.
Spotlight on church role in repression
Von Wernich was not available for comment but court officials, who confirmed his detention, said he has denied being involved
The detention may revive controversy about the Roman Catholic Church’s role during the dictatorship. Some rights groups say the church failed to adequately protest against the widespread rights abuses.
Military rights abuses have been increasingly in the spotlight under newly elected President Nestor Kirchner. His government has pressed for military officials to finally face court trials here or abroad after years of their being protected by amnesty and extradition laws.
Rights protesters and victim’s families threw eggs and shouted insults at Von Wernich during Wednesday’s hearing.
Lawyers said that amnesty laws that apply to military officers may not apply to priests. Kirchner, who came to power in May, has called for an end to amnesty laws and has signed a decree allowing officers to be extradited.