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Christian von Wernich

Christian Federico von Wernich is an Argentine Roman Catholic priest of German origin and a former chaplain of the Buenos Aires Province Police while it was under the command of General Ramon Camps, during the dictatorial period known as the National Reorganization Process (19761983). Wernich worked in Miguel Etchecolatz's Direction of Investigations of the provincial police with the rank of Inspector. He became internationally known in 2006 when he was sentenced to life imprisonment after being convicted of murder and kidnapping in aid of the military junta.

Wernich was accused of participation in the Dirty War, and collaborating in the torture of political prisoners. He declared that he was innocent during the Trial of the Juntas in 1985, two years after the return of democracy. Action against those involved in the military dictatorship was discontinued by the 1986 Ley de Punto Final intended to "draw a line" under all that had happened until then, but the law was repealed in 2003 (and definitively declared unconstitutional in 2005), and cases of crimes against humanity were reopened.

La Plata Federal Judge Arnaldo Corazza gathered testimony from witnesses that placed von Wernich at three illegal detention centers , and ordered his arrest on 25 September 2003, after the priest was discovered in the Chilean seaside town of El Quisco under the assumed identity of "Christian Gonzalez".International Herald Tribune 17 September 2007, Argentine priest testifies about church's role in 'dirty war'

On 7 March 2006 the Federal Court of La Plata confirmed the prosecution and imprisonment on charges of co-authorship of homicide, illegal restraints and acts of torture . Surviving victims declared that von Wernich questioned them under torture, subjected them to mock executions, and, under the guise of counseling, urged them to confess.

The Catholic Voice, 9 January 2006. Argentine priest arraigned for human rights abuses. La Capital (Rosario), 8 March 2006. Von Wernich seguira en prision y sera sometido a juicio oral.

Some of his accusers also alleged von Wernich violated the sacraments by breaking the seal of the confessional, a charge he vehemently denied.International Herald Tribune 17 September 2007, Argentine priest testifies about church's role in 'dirty war'

Wernich's trial began on 5 July 2007 in La Plata, the capital of the province of Buenos Aires. He was accused of seven homicides and 41 instances of kidnapping and torture. The tribunal was composed of judges Carlos Rozanski, Norberto Lorenzo and Horacio Isaurralde, the same panel that had sentenced Miguel Etchecolatz in 2006. Before the trial, von Wernich denied all charges, saying that while he did visit detention centers, he did not witness any human rights abuses there; however, on the first day of the trial, he exercised his right not to answer any questions.

La Nacion, 5 July 2007. Empieza el juicio al ex capellan Wernich. Pagina/12, 5 July 2007. Un cura que bendijo la represion.

On 9 October 2007 the court found him guilty of complicity in seven homicides, 42 kidnappings, and 32 instances of torture, and sentenced him to life imprisonment. BBC News, 10 September 2007. '''Dirty War' priest gets life term.El Clarin, 9 October 2007. Reclusion perpetua para Von Wernich''.

von Wernich has not been penalised by the Catholic Church and is permitted to officiate as priest at Mass in prison. On his conviction his superior, bishop Martin Elizalde, apologised for von Wernich being "so far from the requirements of the mission commended to him" and said "at the appropriate time von Wernich's situation will have to be resolved in accordance with canonical law", but never again referred to the issue in public.

See also

"Dirty War"

Forced disappearance

Religion in Argentina

Miguel Etchecolatz

External links

Information on von Wernich's trial provided by APDH La Plata

A site supporting von Wernich as "a prisoner of war and political prisoner"

YouTube video of part of the trial

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