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THE VATICAN OPTS FOR IMPUNITY

The blood of your brother calls to me from the earth (Genesis 4,10)

For Chilean Christians it is no novelty that Cardinal Angelo Sodano had undertaken "diplomatic dealings" and put forward "humanitarian reasons" in favour of the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet has been accused of serious crimes against humanity, summoned by the National Audience in Spain and is presently being judged by the Law Lords in Britain.

Sodano, having been the Apostolic Nuncio in Chile during the most bloody and repressive epoch of the military regime, cultivated an intimate friendship with the dictator. For this purpose he always kept a complicit silence during the persecution of the Catholic Church for its commitment to the defence and promotion of human rights. He never raised his voice for "clemency" or argued "humanitarian reasons" for the thousands of Christians that from the very day of the coup d'etat were arrested, exiled, tortured, executed or disappeared. On the contrary, he always tried to belittle the heroic work of the Vicariate of Solidarity, created by the Pastor of the Poor, Cardinal Raúl Silva Henríquez.

Our pilgrim and missionary Church that, during 17 years of the brutal dictatorship was "the voice of the voiceless" and refuge for the persecuted and tortured, was criticised and disqualified at various opportunities by the then Nuncio Sodano. At that time and place, he did nothing. On the contrary, he more or less endorsed the violent expulsion of Fathers Pierre Dubois, Daniel Carouedde and Jaime Lancelot from La Victoria Población, carried out by the repressive forces. This was at a time when there was a growing tide of popular protest against the military dictatorship that was rooted in power through blood and fire.

During the visit to Chile of Pope John Paul II, Nuncio Sodano tried to avoid at all cost that Carmen Gloria Quintana - a young woman burnt alive by a military patrol - should give her testimony and prove the criminal mentality that drove the supporters of the military dictatorship. He also insisted, and not for reasons of protocol, that the Pope and Pinochet would appear at the balcony of La Moneda - the presidential palace that the dictator had bombarded on the 11th of September 1973.

There were so many instances of these disqualifications and intrigues of Sodano against the grassroots Church, the Church of the Poor, that in September 1986 a large group of lay people, priests and nuns from the popular sectors asked the President of the Episcopal Conference to declare the wayward Nuncio in Chile persona non grata. They stated: "We ask for the change of the present nuncio accredited by the Holy See. For a long time now, numerous communities have been demanding this change. Hundreds of priests and nuns have also asked for this. The people know of his "reports" to Rome and of his excessive attachment to the military regime. Also well known are his biased criteria in recommending the appointment of new bishops. In the offices of the nuncio "black lists" operate, there are rewards for services rendered, people seeking promotion, people falling in and out of favour. Speaking frankly, we do not want this nuncio because of his open affinity with the present military dictatorship. We do not see in him diplomacy, but rather complicity." (Juan Pablo II Document and the People of Chile, Santiago, September 1986).

At present, clothed as the Vatican Secretary of State, he assumes the sad and unacceptable role of supporting the dictator Pinochet whose defence could not deny the serious charges made against him; he is ultimately responsible for crimes such as international terrorism and torture. This support is a true slap in the face for the defenders of human rights all over the world, for the thousands of victims of military repression, and for the families who are calling for something so fundamental - and consecrated in the Gospel and the Vatican Council II - as the demand for justice for the crimes and torture perpetrated. This obviously produces grief and confusion among Christians and people of goodwill who are fighting for justice all over the world.

In this context of diplomatic manoeuvring at the highest level coming from the Vatican, it would be interesting to know the opinion of the rest of the Curia in relation to the continuing silence about the brutal assassination of six priests by Pinochet's dictatorship. Furthermore, if, for Christians, martyrdom is a gift of God that has been part of the history of the Church since Saint Stephen's sacrifice, we should not forget the sacrifice of our six brothers who gave their lives for the cause of justice and freedom. This was the evangelical praxis of Father Joan Alsina, Miguel Woodward, Antonio Llidó, Omar Venturelli, Gerardo Poblete and André Jarlan.

Monsignor Sodano, today we are telling you, from our Christian conscience which is based on our love for the Church, to acknowledge that just as Jesus Christ suffered under the power of Pontius Pilate, the Holy See should proclaim to the world that our six priests also suffered martyrdom under the power of Augusto Pinochet.

Alas for those who devise wickedness and evil deeds on their beds, when the morning downs, they perform it because it is in their power! (Prophet Micah 2, 1)

Monsignor Romero Committee, Chile - Movement Somos Iglesia
Santiago, Chile, 22nd February 1999

Translation updated: 31.3.99

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