‘Dirty War’ priest gets life sentence
Thursday, October 18th, 2007
Christian Von Wernich, the former Catholic police chaplain accused of involvement in atrocities committed during Argentina’s “Dirty War” of 1976-83, has been convicted of involvement in murder, abduction and torture, and sentenced to life imprisonment.
After a three-month trial in La Plata, 35 miles south of Buenos Aires, 69-year-old Fr Von Wernich was found guilty of involvement in seven murders, 42 abductions and 31 cases of torture. He initially avoided prosecution by moving to Chile and working there under a false name as a priest. Investigators tracked him down and he was extradited to Argentina in 2003.
Former prisoners testified at the trial that Fr Von Wernich won their trust before passing on information to the police. They said he was present at torture sessions and absolved police involved in such sessions.
Fr Von Wernich said he had never revealed information conveyed to him during the sacrament of confession.
There were scenes of jubilation outside the courthouse when the sentence was announced. Among those welcoming the verdict were members of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who for the last 30 years have been seeking to learn the fate of sons and daughters who disappeared during military rule.
Christian Federico von Wernich was born in 1938 of German origin became chaplain of the Buenos Aires Provincial Police in 1976.
Von Wernich was accused of having abused his position in the clergy in order to obtain information from political prisoners during confession.
One of the most atrocious crimes in which von Wernich is said to have participated was that of the "group of seven" (Grupo de los siete) students who he allegedly “broke” through confession and who were later killed. It is alleged that he often visited the relatives of the seven students asking for money and telling them that their children were going to be released soon if they cooperated. He allegedly promised the same to the students, as in the case of Cecilia Idiart, who later was killed.
The report Nunca Más ("Never Again"), produced by the National Commission on the Disappeared (CONADEP), contains important information about the role played by von Wernich during the repression and about his alleged complicity with torture and arbitrary detention.
The report reproduces several testimonies implicating the clergy. An Argentinean official, for instance, who had taken part in the killing of a member of the opposition in the presence of Von Wernich later testified: “Father Von Wernich saw that what had happened had shocked me, and spoke to me telling me that what we had done was necessary; it was a patriotic act and God knew it was for the good of the country.“
After the dictatorship von Wernich was sent by the church to the Parish of 9 July some 250 kilometers from Buenos Aires where he remained until 1996. After that, he moved to Chile where he worked as a priest in El Quisco under the false name of Cristian Gonzalez.
In 2003, he was located there by Hernan Brienza, a journalist who was investigating his involvement in the crimes and who authored Maldito tu eres, a book about the link of von Wernich with the repressive regime in Argentina. As a consequence, in May 2003, von Wernich ceased his priestly functions.
Von Wernich was arrested in 2003, after the Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional the Amnesty Law (Ley de Punto Final) and the Due Obedience Law (Ley de Obediencia debida).
Go To Top