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Gustavo Morello, The Catholic Church and Argentina’s Dirty War



In contrast to other countries, none of the most important dioceses in Argentina (Bs As,
Córdoba, Rosario, Mendoza) nor the CEA created any framework to protect victims or
document abuses

Scholars (Gill, 1998; Levine 2012; Mainwaring and Wilde, 1989) have been perplexed by
public silence of Argentinian hierarchy
 Image of Catholicism is now ‘that of an institution that was an accomplice of, or at
the very least did not condemn, terrorism by the state’

Some authors emphasise bishops’ support of state terror

 Emilio Mignone said that bishops and generals shared the same goal of defending
“Western Christian civilisation” and blamed some bishops: Pío Laghi, Plaza, Tortolo,
Bonamín of manipulating theology to justify mass killings
 Verbitsky argues that hierarchy knew what was going on but chose to stay silent to
maintain good relations with the regime- re-establishing Catholicisism as a national

 Dri identifies a theology of domination that was ideological legitimation for the
national security state

Some bishops saw some modern pastoral practices as responsible for creating guerrillas
(Bresci 1987; Klaiber 1998)

Majority of bishops worried about church division – concerned about Lefebvre

 “moderates” tried to keep church unity
 meant displacing from CEA bishops who openly supported the regime, but also
neutralising complaints of those concerned about human rights violations (Novaro
and Palermo 2003; Obregon 2005; Pérez Esquivel 1992)
 De Nevares (APDH and MEDH) and Novak, Hesayne and Kemerer (MEDH) ostracised
by colleagues

Gill: lack of free religious market and religious competition meant that Church didn’t bother
reaching the poor –


but the rational choice approach is problematic and oversimplifies the situation in Argentina

Both Peronism in 40s and 50s and national security doctrine of 60s and 70s redefined
church-state relationship
 Both tried to curb church’s influence and challenged bishops’ authority while using
Catholicism to legitimise political positions
 Disestablishment politics disputed church’s spaces and functions, while
caesaropapism sought to coopt the church for the state


“Anti-secular” Catholics – put up resistance to any accommodation with modern world

 Wanted to rebuild a Catholic fortress to be defended against the world
 Models were Franco’s Spain and an idealised medieval order

“Institutional” Catholics
 Realised change was unavoidable and the church had to navigate it
 Understood need for negotiation with modernity and encouraged pastoral
 Because nation was Catholic, the church represented the interests of the people in
relation with political system
 Sought privileged position for the church to access govt

“Committed” Catholics
 Stressed public engagement with poor
 Social sensitivity and religious commitment characterised them more than political
or theological allegiances – many were theological conservatives or political
nationalistic, and many distrusted liberal democracy