Church's role on trial in Argentina

09 July 2007 by Santiago O’Donnell

Occupation? "I am a priest of the Catholic Church." On July 5, the first day of the trial, the former police chaplain, clerical collar in place, took his place behind the bulletproof glass. He remained guarded, speaking only to confirm his identity to the court. Christian von Wernich is the first member of the Argentinean clergy to stand trial for alleged human rights violations committed in the 1970s. He is the third defendant to be tried since amnesty laws were struck down in June 2005.

"Assassin!" "Murderer!" Demonstrators shouted into megaphones on the plaza outside the La Plata federal court, in the province of Buenos Aires. Their voices carried into the courtroom. From time to time, von Wernich would tap his right ear, as if the noise outside bothered him. Not far from him sat the mothers of the disappeared, their signature white kerchiefs tied around their heads; beside them were grandmothers representing the 500 babies of imprisoned activists, babies who were sent to be raised by military families, their identities changed.

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