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The Vatican Rag

The Catholic Church and the Dirty War in Argentina

by William P. Meyers

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I have been exploring the largely untold story of the relationship of the Catholic Church to modern Fascism (see Catholicism and Fascism). This modern history seems to be an extension of the period when the Church depended on kings to violently enforce its one-religion-fits-all model, and in turn the Church propped up the kings.

While official Catholic Church policy has been against violence since its politicians (Franco, Hitler, Mussolini) were defeated in World War II, many members of the Church hierarchy did not hear that message (or were told to ignore it). Today the New York Times reported on the trial of a priest who aided the Argentine government during its "dirty war" against democrats between 1976 and 1983 (See Argentine Church Faces ‘Dirty War’ Past). While specific to the trial of Father von Wernich, the article might serve as a template for the Church's support for dictators in central and South America after World War II.

News articles need to be placed in context. Many Catholic priests and laypersons have rejected the hierarchy's and Popes interpretation of the Christian faith over the nearly 2 millennia the Roman church has existed. In the past some times these movements were co-opted by the hierarchy (the Franciscans are a good example). At other times they were declared heretics and murdered (the Hussites, for example). The main Protestant sects (Lutheran, etc.) took the path of splitting from the Roman church.

While the hierarchy helped identify, pressure, torture and even exterminate economic and political democracy movements in the Americas, another trend developed that so far has stayed within the Catholic fold. Their gospel is called Liberation Theology, which identifies Jesus with the poor and powerless, rather than accepting the standard Catholic Model that Jesus is a King who protects the interests of Kings, the wealthy, and South American torture junkies. Under the present and prior Popes, bishops and priests who sympathised with Liberation Theology, or even just American style liberal interpretations of dogma, have been systematically replaced with conservative theologians.

In my book democracy is the best system of government. If citizens are sick of capitalism and want to try socialism, they should be able to do that through their political institutions. If someone sets up a dictatorship, or an oligarchy, people have a right to overthrow it, whether it is right-wing, left-wing, or not on that spectrum. If people in a democracy get tired of socialism, they can vote to try capitalism again, or at least move the needle on the dial to a setting they think will work.

Religion and politics is a dangerous mixture that almost always results in violence. Religious groups are intolerant by nature. We forget that in the United States of America because no one group has ever dominated here.

I hope the Catholic Church is fading away into history. But it is still a huge institution and the many Catholic nations only recently accepted the principle of freedom of worship, or freedom not to worship. I do worry that some nations, if not the world, could backslide into promoting state religions. I hold that critique for Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist and Jewish states. I am also against state enforcement of atheism or agnosticism.